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FINGERPRINTS OF PREVIOUS OWNERS

A reckoning with the legacies of colonialism and slavery and their reverberations in the present day.

A young woman unearths the violent history of her Caribbean home.

Nobody on Myrna’s island talks about the place’s past: plugged deep in the Caribbean, it once housed a plantation owned by a man named Cruffey, along with his slaves. Most of the island’s current black-skinned residents, Myrna included, are descendants of those slaves. Many of them share Cruffey’s last name. To talk about that past is verboten; to visit the ruins of the estate, even more so. In any case, those ruins have long since been overgrown by brush. Now, the focal point of the island is the tourist resort that has taken over most of it. Wealthy white patrons lounge by the pool, their backs to the sea. Myrna works as a maid. Whenever a new boatload of visitors arrives, she and the rest of the staff play out a troubling diorama. The white workers dress up as Columbus; the black workers, descendants of slaves, dress up as “natives”—none of whom have survived to the present day. This is the first novel by Entel, a professor of African-American and Caribbean literature at Cornell, and it is a magnificent one. Her prose is lyrical, luminous, and each detail has been planted as precisely as a foundation stone. Myrna begins spending her evenings struggling through the brush to the island’s interior, where the ruins are located. The way is difficult. Her skin and clothes are snagged by thorns. She hardly knows what she’s looking for. Then, one day, a black American woman shows up, a tourist, with a large book Myrna soon catches sight of: The Cruffey Plantation Journal: 1833. It’s the most explicit reference to the island’s past Myrna has come across. As Myrna pursues the book and the ghosts of the island’s past, long-buried tensions begin to rise. The dioramas staged by the resort staff grow crueler, more violent. In a way, Myrna’s project echoes Entel’s larger one: both Myrna and Entel seek to unearth a long-buried history; both of them seek to give voice to those who have been silenced. Here’s hoping that Entel follows her first novel with many more.

A reckoning with the legacies of colonialism and slavery and their reverberations in the present day.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944700-23-2

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

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

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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