Out el Kouloub achieves a modest success by importing some of the feel of an 18th-century British novel into her rendering of harem life in traditional Egypt. Egypt's Out el Kouloub based Ramza, written and published in French in 1958, on her own harem experience, and she portrays these forbidden women's quarters in Middle Eastern households in all their paradox. Sequestered from the outside world, the harem women create their own exclusive world where oral culture thrives: They exchange stories to entertain, console, and bond with one another. Ramza, the novel's heroine, breaks both male and female norms by venturing into her father's study (in the men's part of the house) where she learns to read and write. Although time is unspecified, the novel is set in the era of British influence over Egypt (18821952), and Ramza's education is distinctly European. Influenced by John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, Ramza, not surprisingly, grows into a young woman of surging independence who is constantly threatened by the undertow of her powerful emotions. After the death of her bridegroom on the eve of an arranged marriage, Ramza falls in love with Maher. Forbidden by her father from marrying Maher because of his social status, Ramza resolves to escape the harem and elope. Her pursuit of desire and fulfillment at all costs gives her an appealing intensity, but Out el Kouloub (Khul-Khaal, not reviewed) often mars the characterization with melodrama. During Maher and Ramza's assignation in a Bedouin tent one can almost hear ``Midnight at the Oasis'' wafting through the flaps: ``Maher pulled me into his arms and his lips touched mine. At that moment I felt I was committing the greatest folly of my life, but I could not stop myself.'' Unique by virtue of its subject and resourceful treatment, not the author's craft.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8156-2618-5

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Syracuse Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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