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The Story of Little Ai

ADVENTURES OF A LITTLE GIRL IN THIRTEENTH CENTURY CHINA

A folk tale–style novel set in medieval China, but readers may want more to hold on to.

In her novel, Gurian adopts a mythlike tone while incorporating historical events into the story of a young girl in 13th-century China under Mongol rule.

Little Ai and her mother, seamstress Sui San, join a troupe of actors when all Chinese are expelled from the Mongolian capital following an assassination. They travel across China, observing the friendships and rivalries of the actors, slowly becoming part of the extended family, until Sui San goes missing and is presumed dead. The troupe disbands when they reach their destination, and Little Ai is left with a neglectful aunt. The narrative has a folk tale–like quality, from its formal dialogue—“The heir to the throne has returned suddenly in order to render sacrifice to the gods. He demands your presence. Do not delay carrying out the command of the one who sends for you”—to its vivid depiction of a bygone world: “Peasants in straw sandals drove their donkeys which were hardly visible underneath tall baskets full of silk cocoons. Small-time merchants were screaming in various voices; wandering chefs were clattering their dishes; a fortuneteller was setting up his tent by a mat on which a doctor had laid out his medicines for skin and eye diseases.” Chapter titles (“How the Lamp Went Out Three Times,” “How Little Ai Met Her Big Brother”) complement the folk-tale feel as well. The plot is less satisfying, with many chapters presenting minor conflicts and adventures that have little impact on the ultimate resolution. Titular Little Ai is present for much of the action, but she remains in the background, displaying no evolution over the course of the narrative and offering little emotional connection to the reader. Take, for instance, her response to Sui San’s apparent death, several chapters later: “I haven’t seen Mother in her coffin, and therefore I don’t believe it. My daughterly duty is to fulfill Mother’s will, even if she isn’t alive.”

A folk tale–style novel set in medieval China, but readers may want more to hold on to.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5174-1390-3

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2019

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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