A masterpiece, from one of the world’s most underrated great writers.


The history of the Swedish Pentecostal Church makes an unlikely—and inspired—subject for this historical novel from the formidably gifted Enquist (The Royal Physician’s Visit, 2001, etc.).

Erstwhile Pentecostal communicant Efraim Markström willed his lebenslauf (life story) to Enquist, the author tells us in the prologue. Enquist uses incidents from Markström’s lebenslauf, accompanied by recollections of his own religious upbringing and meditations on Sweden’s political and ecclesiastical history, to relate the saga of two Pentecostal leaders. Pethrus Lewi Johansson, aka Lewi Pethrus, transforms his fascination with a maverick, Christ-centered faith (created in San Francisco in 1906 by a one-eyed crippled black preacher “speaking in tongues”) into a movement that by the 1920s rivals his homeland’s state-controlled church. Underachieving bohemian poet Sven Lidman, disappointed in his search for “rapture” in literary creation and amorous affairs, makes his way to Lewi’s church, finding therein his long-sought “artistic genre . . . storytelling as sermon.” Juxtaposing the two men’s stories, bringing them gradually together, then recounting their growing enmity, separation and disillusioned later lives, Enquist painstakingly fashions two stunningly rich characterizations. The self-absorbed Lidman is a calculating sybarite who employs seduction, advantageous marriage and charismatic rhetoric to feed his need for celebrity. The stoic, basically humorless, distractible Lewi perseveres through the 20th-century’s troubled decades, preserving his congregation’s unity throughout various workers’, farmers’ and women’s movements. Lewi puts down dissension in the form of an ambitious missionary, then emulates the travail of John Bunyan’s Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress during his “exile” in the United States. His return to Sweden in 1941 brings a climactic break with Lidman, who has become enamored of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and eventually resigns from the Pentecostal Church. From their intertwined odyssey, Enquist has created one of the most powerful dramatizations of religious experience ever written.

A masterpiece, from one of the world’s most underrated great writers.

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 1-58567-341-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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