For the adventurous, then: wonderfully well told.


Expanded from a novella that first appeared in Douglas E. Winter’s anthology Revelations (1997), the silkily textured tale of two boys sold to a Peking Opera troupe is now a full-fledged transvestite fantasia.

In late-1930s Hong Kong, six-year-old Ji Fung is sold to the troupe by his crazy mother, who then murders the rest of the family and sets herself afire. Ji Fung falls in love with Lin Bai, a boy who plays women and is raped nightly by the company’s Master Lau. After several years, the Lucky Dragon café dismisses the troupe and turns to jazz. As Lau is about to kill Ji Fung, Lin Bai spears the master instead, and the boys hide out. They fall in with Perique, a wealthy French-Chinese hedonist, and later uncle Gong Sut Fo, a top Triad mobster, rescues Ji Fung from gangsters and gives him a job: he must deliver a lacquered box to Shanghai. But in Shanghai, Ji Fung, Lin Bai (in drag), and Perique are at a jewelry counter when falling bombs kill Perique, embedding his handsome face and eyes with diamonds, emeralds, and slivers of crystal: “Precious stones glittered in the flayed meat of his cheeks.” Lin Bai dies of his wounds, and Ji Fung leaves for Hollywood. By 1945, he’s an Asian bit player who tends bar on weekends, fights his emptiness, and lusts after transvestite café singer Tansy Chan. Tansy (Victor) is only one of many cross-dressers, including hard-boiled mystery screenwriter Blake Blackline (really Nan Blake), who skulk across the page as the novel shifts into artfully bloody Hollywood noir, while weaving in unflinching depictions of bigotry against gays and Asians. Then the story leaps into the present. Be warned: graphic sex splits the page and puts an Eastern shimmer on a boy’s “silken muscle”; it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

For the adventurous, then: wonderfully well told.

Pub Date: May 3, 2004

ISBN: 1-931081-40-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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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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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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