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FOUR HANDS

A complex international scenario of journalism, disinformation, and espionage unfolds through interweaving narratives of fictional characters and historical figures. Greg and Julio, an American and Mexican journalist, respectively, whose ``four hands'' often combine for high-quality investigative stories, are, perhaps, the heroes of this tale. But Alex, the borderline-sane head of the SD (Shit Department), a covert US agency devoted to spreading complex disinformation plots, is an attractive tyrant. His ``Operation Dream of Snow White'' is aimed at discrediting a high-ranking Sandinista. The plan must also satisfy Alex's brilliant sense of the absurd: Alex ``had a Sandinista commander, an astonishing Bulgarian, a Mexican drug dealer, some journalists, an Australian prostitute, a Congress of partisan writers, a murder....'' Taibo (Some Clouds, 1992, etc.) knits further complexities: The story begins when film comedian Stan Laurel witnesses the death of Pancho Villa; a journalistic award Laurel subsequently co-founds with Julio's grandfather will come into play many years later; Greg and Julio are working on a story about Leon Trotsky's recently discovered unfinished detective novel; Houdini visits his therapist (he sees a headless vision of his mother with discomfiting regularity); and chapters such as ``Elena Jordan's Second Rejected Thesis Proposal'' provide hilarious jabs at academia. The Mexican Taibo has been compared to Garc°a M†rquez for both his odd happenings and his mastery of craft. But there is nothing ``magical'' about the odd events and characters included. The novel is only slightly stranger than, say, the Iran-Contra affair, and more closely resembles Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Taibo mercilessly lampoons American imperialism, with all its dirty tricks; the comedic pace rarely slows. But sometimes the prose rises, impassioned, as when it describes the Sandinista revolution. All the while the work sustains diverse, bizarre, and ultimately believable characters. Praise to translator Dail—the rhythms are distinctively American, accurately conveying Taibo's keen view of his northern neighbor's overhanging belly.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-312-10987-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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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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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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