An impressive tale, written in a sure-handed style, that vividly exposes the heavy personal and cultural costs of racism.

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The Unspeakable

A debut novel details a betrayal in apartheid South Africa.

Anderson (Vanishing Ground: Poems, 2000) tells the tale of Adrian Erasmus, a man raised by his widower father, a drunken, racist Boer who eventually blows his brains out in front of his son due to an impossible debt. Adrian is shooting a video starring professor Digby Bamford. Although his reputation has faded, Bamford caused a sensation in the 1960s when he found a fossilized skull called Wonderboy, suggesting humans originated in South Africa. Also at the Wonderboy site are Bamford’s girlfriend, Vicky, once Adrian’s lover, and Adrian’s co-worker, a black South African known as Bucs. Complications develop as the foursome camps in the remote area. Adrian wants to rekindle his affair with Vicky, but she has her eye on Bucs; Adrian fantasizes about killing both men. When the booze-swilling Bamford proposes a porn shoot starring Vicky, Bucs, and Adrian, Bucs leaves and Adrian blows up the crew’s vehicle, creating a huge fire. Later Adrian finds Bamford dying from a gunshot wound that he claims is self-inflicted, but Adrian discovers that Vicky shot him. After witnessing South African soldiers tearing down a black family’s hut, he runs into a racist soldier who tells Adrian he and his comrades have captured and badly beaten the innocent Bucs while hunting for “terros”—terrorists. After Adrian lies, claiming Bucs killed Bamford and set the fire, the black man faces execution. This is a tautly written, finely crafted novel that plumbs the depths of racism, not only as it occurred in South Africa under apartheid, but by extension as it continues in much of the world today. Anderson has a golden ear for realistic dialogue, and his descriptive powers are strong (Bamford looks “like some flabby failure in a Mr. Universe contest”). Readers should not only see the characters, places, and situations the author describes, but smell, hear, and sometimes even feel them as well. Beyond painting a bleak portrait of the dissolute, decadent, and cruel nature of apartheid South Africa, “this bloody fascist country,” the book builds to a moral climax when Adrian has the chance to free his colleague. The only characters who come across as decent are the blacks, and they are relentlessly ground down by the whites.

An impressive tale, written in a sure-handed style, that vividly exposes the heavy personal and cultural costs of racism.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-936196-38-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: C & R Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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