Edifying but not electrifying.



Winfrey’s debut novel reimagines the life of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian radio-communications pioneer.

It would seem that Marconi was born to be an inventor. Fascinated by experiments throughout his young life, his most notable and destructive work was conducted when he was a child, inspired by his reading of Benjamin Franklin’s work on electricity. He passed an electric current through the family’s dinner plates by coiling wire around them and connecting them to a battery. This resulted in the plates being shattered and his father punishing him severely. On another occasion, he severed the tip of his ring finger when working, but continued with his task, stating that he would get it “stuck back on by and by.” It was this unswerving determination, along with an alarming intellect, that led him to dedicate his research to “wireless telegraphy.” His discoveries changed the world, pioneering a long-distance radio-transmission system upon which contemporary methods of communication were founded. With his success came a rise to fame. The novel examines his move to England and the work conducted in the service of Queen Victoria, his meeting with Thomas Edison, and his receipt of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Marconi’s story is told in a simple, flat, “he did this, he did that” manner with little embellishment. The narrative begs for more dialogue, and the author’s deployment of simile and metaphor is staid: “He had arrived like a gust of energetic wind. Blond, blue-eyed, and dressed in emerald green, he reminded Guglielmo of a leprechaun.” There are, however, a scattering of delightful exceptions: “He shook Marconi’s hand three times, moving it up and down, reminding Marconi of the pump in the backyard of Villa Griffone.” The novel is one of a collection of books titled the Mentoris Project, which champions the work of great Italians and Italian-Americans, but the author doesn’t shy away from detailing Marconi’s unapologetic leanings towards fascism, making for a well-rounded, warts-and-all portrait. Despite its failings, this novel proves to be an educational read that also offers some speculative insight into the private life of the inventor.

Edifying but not electrifying.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-05-8

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Barbera Foundation, Inc.

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2018

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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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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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