by Peter Kimani ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 7, 2017
Despite an overly complex and loose narrative, this is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.
African colonialism is confronted in this subtle, multilayered Kenyan tale.
A “massive, snakelike creature whose black head, erect like a cobra’s, pulled rusty brown boxes and slithered down the savanna”: it’s 1901, and the first train has arrived in Kenya's Rift Valley from the port of Mombasa. This is how Kimani (Before the Rooster Crows, 2004) opens this lyrical and powerful historical novel about his homeland. It’s primarily the story of three men: the Master, Ian Edward McDonald, the Brit who built the railroad; Richard Turnbull, a preacher and friend of McDonald's; and Babu Salim, an Indian who helped build the railroad. Babu is also the grandfather of Rajan, a talented musician who now sings his songs in the Jakaranda Hotel, near where the railroad ends. Once a majestic monument to love that McDonald built for his wife, Sally, it fell to ruin—a “veritable heart of darkness”— after she refused to live there, disgusted when she saw how McDonald brutalized the workers and servants. Through a series of flashbacks the lives of these three men “run parallel to each other for decades,” finally coming together and unraveling in a “momentary clash” in the 1960s when Rajan is suddenly kissed in the dark hotel by a mysterious woman who then disappears. His obsession with her finally ends when he sees her on the dance floor and brings her onstage. Rajan and Mariam quickly develop a relationship; when he brings her to meet his elderly grandparents, she utters something to Babu, unleashing an unexplained curse dealing with ages-old illegitimacy and infidelity upon the family. Kimani weaves together a bitter, hurtful past and hopeful present in this rich tale of Kenyan history and culture, the railroad, and the men and women whose lives it profoundly affected.Despite an overly complex and loose narrative, this is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.
Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
National Book Award Finalist
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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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by Harper Lee ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 11, 1960
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
Page Count: 323
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960
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