A blunt and surprisingly humorous peek at an aspect of global displacement that remains largely hidden from public view.


Fleeing conscription in Saddam Hussein’s army, an Iraqi refugee finds himself in a different kind of hell after he applies for asylum in the Netherlands.

By the time Samir Karim lands in Schiphol airport in 1998, he has already spent seven years trying to set down anchor somewhere in the world. The Dutch, he has heard, are lenient with asylum. Coming from war-torn Iraq, Karim has a powerful case. The problem is the Dutch have heard it all before, and Karim’s application soon gets snared in bureaucratic procedures. He whiles away years, waiting with his assigned two blankets, three sheets, a towel, a pillow, and a pillowcase, to obtain an official residence permit. Karim meets close to 500 fellow refugees at the asylum seekers’ center. Waiting in the center, not knowing when the all-important letter from immigration will arrive, is modern-day purgatory. Al Galidi, himself an Iraqi refugee in the Netherlands, leans on his experiences to describe the cacophony that’s the ASC. A parade of colorful refugee seekers fills in a striking picture of what life’s like on the inside. Does conversion to Christianity help? Rumor has it that it might. “Whoever goes to the mosque gets sent to the jihad, and whoever goes to the church gets a residence permit. I think the church is better,” says Fatima, with a sardonic sense of humor. Karim is an entertaining—if occasionally coarse—protagonist who expertly dissects the statelessness that plagues today’s refugees. In one of the more touching moments, a 7-year-old born at the center claims it as his country—he has seen nothing else. The nuanced narrative does not hide darker currents of depression or loss of personhood.

A blunt and surprisingly humorous peek at an aspect of global displacement that remains largely hidden from public view.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-045-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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