An empathetic, challenging examination of familial secrets, shame, and solidarity.

Isles of the Blind

In Rosenberg’s (This Is Not Civilization, 2004) second novel, a man attempts to “resolve the puzzle” of his relationship with his late, estranged brother.

To the rest of the world, Yusuf Elmas was the hard-partying, womanizing CEO of the cellphone company Teletürk. But to Avram Benezra, Yusuf was his younger brother who rejected the family name and made billions while Avram led an unflashy life as an architect, husband, and father. In the spring of 2005, 14 years after they last spoke, Avram receives a call from Yusuf in the middle of the night and promptly hangs up on him. The following day, he finds out that his brother, a strong swimmer, drowned in the Sea of Marmara after a high-speed boating accident. Five years later, Avram learns that Yusuf had bequeathed his decrepit mansion on the Princes’ Islands to their dead father. Although Avram’s marriage is troubled, he travels alone to the islands to renovate the mansion with the help of Yusuf’s servants, including cook Flora Demirkan, whose 19-year-old daughter, Yasemin Demopoulous, drowned alongside his brother. As Avram speaks with Yusuf’s friends and acquaintances, he reconciles his memory of his difficult sibling—who accused their father of thievery, among other crimes—with an image of a kindhearted, ethical man who risked his life to publicly acknowledge the Armenian genocide in his native Turkey. Avram begins to suspect that his brother’s political actions are connected to his suspicious death, and author Rosenberg hints at a suspenseful conspiracy narrative to which he never quite commits. Despite this missed opportunity, the novel remains compelling and moving thanks to the sibling relationship at its core, which raises provocative questions about loyalty, jealousy, and how well one person can know another. A longing for intimacy shines through Rosenberg’s loveliest passages, as when 9-year-old Avram treats his 5-year-old brother’s cystic fibrosis and comes to “know, better than my own, the geometry of moles and birthmarks on [Yusuf’s] neck.”

An empathetic, challenging examination of familial secrets, shame, and solidarity.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942515-18-0

Page Count: 494

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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