THE SLY COMPANY OF PEOPLE WHO CARE

Words as musical notes, a book as symphony—so it is with this debut novel, occasionally rippling with pidgin English and yet always sparkling with literary insights, all set within the landscape of a forgotten corner of South America.

A young writer from India travels to Guyana to report on a cricket tournament, and he becomes fascinated by the country, with its mixture of Chinese, Indian, Portuguese and African cultures. He soon returns for a year's stay, seeking a thing he cannot articulate in a setting where his Indian culture was once identified as coolieman—an indentured laborer. Both intrigued and repelled, the nameless protagonist, sometimes called "Gooroo" by Guyanan friends, takes up residence in Kitty, a dilapidated Georgetown neighborhood. There he meets Baby, a "scamp," a man who lives by lies and wiles. The two set off for the interior, Guyana's violent frontier border where "porknockers" dig into the jungle seeking gold and diamonds. Bhattacharya laces his story with colloquial conversational references—bai, skunt, banna, cyan—but meanings are mostly clear in context. The narrative is also expanded by references to reggae and ska. The novel's middle portion is less character-driven, but it does present an interesting social, racial and political history woven into a visit to Guyana's coastal rice and sugarcane producing areas. The last part finds the narrator residing on vibrant Sheriff Street in Georgetown. There he meets de Jesus and Moonsammy, and tags along on a trip to Boa Vista in Brazil, which includes an illicit border crossing. He meets Jan, an exotic mixed-race beauty, and there is an immediate sexual attraction. The novel concludes with the couple traveling in Venezuela, a sometimes idyllic, sometimes ugly sojourn. Unlike the narrator, Jan knows what she wants from life, and the romantic interlude ends and the story concludes in a fashion as bitter and unsatisfying as real life sometimes can be. An exotic locale and lyrical language make for a dazzling debut.  

 

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-26585-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more