A very clear rendering of a notoriously difficult poet.


Celan makes for difficult reading (Glottal Stop, see above). But he justifies the obduracy of his verse by pointing out the danger inherent to any dealing with language: “It had to pass through it’s own answerlessness, pass through frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech.” Felstiner succeeds admirably in taking this thought seriously, and his translations give equal attention to the silences and empty spaces that haunt the exacting language of these pieces. The poetry itself begins in snow, death, and darkness; Celan’s early work interrogates the death of his parents at Nazi hands and seeks compensation in discovering what he later called “an addressable Thou . . . an addressable reality.” His final poems, which become progressively more hermetic and disjunctive, enact a minimalism that makes Dickinson look Dickensian by comparison (and Celan was an accomplished translator of Amherst’s Muse). The late series of poems that he wrote after his visit to Israel in 1969 are particularly interesting, as they stage the interaction between an intensely personal and highly oblique aesthetic with the brute political realities of a nation at war, when slogans threaten to drown out all lyrics. Though Felstiner is a scrupulous translator, he eschews the pedantry of always favoring accuracy over (his best guess at) intent. His translation of Celan’s most famous work (“Deathfugue”) is carefully experimental: taking a cue from the musical reference in the title, Felstiner intertwines his translation with the original German. A subtle progression of substitutions changes the poem’s leitmotif (“Death is a master from Deutschland”) back into Celan’s own (“der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland”). The mingling of voices is a nice metaphor for translation, and also provides a standard that Felstiner, at his best, achieves.

A very clear rendering of a notoriously difficult poet.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04999-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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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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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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