A human face for “the banality of evil,” Hannah Arendt’s still serviceable phrase: sharply observed and well written, but...


A grim and unsettling first novel about an aging war criminal and his implacable young pursuer.

In 1941, Friedrich Reile, 17, joined the German army and was attached to EK10A, a so-called “punitive organ.” Those it punished—that is, gassed, shot, killed—were for the most part Jews. On one particular day, for instance, it punished a total of 400, men, women, and children, by pouring rifle fire into them as they stood helplessly before their open graves, with Reile an active participant. After Germany’s collapse, Reile lied his way past various allied investigative boards and eventually out of that country into Canada, where he became a successful businessman, eluding capture for 50 years while leading his respectable if secret life. Meanwhile, young Dennis Connors, a cynical shell hiding ferocious commitment, is a historian employed by Canada’s Special Prosecution Unit, an ad hoc government body charged with bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. The unit’s record is dismal, though not all of its failure is the SPU’s fault. Evidence is hard to assemble. Witnesses grow old, in some cases confused, increasingly uncertain of what was once their very reason for being. The criminals themselves grow old—and die unpunished. Now, six years after its formation, the SPU has heard its own death knell. Funding has dried up, mostly because what was once so energizing a mission is in danger of becoming quaint. Except for Dennis, the last of the SPU warriors. And Dennis knows about Reile, wants him caught and tried, wants him—publicly—to face up to his innate monstrosity. No one has to tell Dennis how late in the day it is. Too late? Maybe not. At least not for Dennis’s unique approach to retribution.

A human face for “the banality of evil,” Hannah Arendt’s still serviceable phrase: sharply observed and well written, but unrelentingly painful to read.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26954-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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