HUMAN MATTER

Of a piece with the author’s Dust on Her Tongue (1992) as an exploration of political violence and its troubling...

Somber, allusive story of his native country’s troubled past by Guatemalan exile Rey Rosa (Chaos: A Fable, 2019, etc.).

The human matter of the title is not just corporeal, although the events Rey Rosa recounts in this slender novel have yielded mounds of corpses. It also includes the faint traces of those who were “disappeared” at the hands of the National Police, a body theoretically disbanded after peace accords were signed between the government and its guerrilla discontents in 1996. Among the names and facts that fill the narrator’s notebooks are a man arrested in 1941, well before such events began, for “recidivist loitering,” another for “shining boots without a license.” The police were there, always, to remove such miscreants from the streets, to say nothing of errant typists, drill operators, sawyers, and others who crossed the line. As he digs, the narrator asks questions of people who were affected by the repression of the regime and the guerrilla war alike; of one professor who narrowly escaped torture for his “subversive activities,” the narrator asks how it could be that the mostly illiterate Mayan peasants of the countryside could be assumed “to share the Marxist ideology of the revolutionary leaders,” a question that the professor finds “extremely unfriendly.” The archives themselves are unfriendly to researchers, as the narrator finds when volumes are brought to him with pages torn out, as if to hide the worst of the worst happenings from history. Secrecy lies at the heart of the story, manifesting itself in many ways, as when the narrator is asked to write about newly published diaries of the Argentinian writer Bioy Casares that Bioy himself never intended for publication. Rey Rosa is suggestive rather than explicit, his narrator slowly despairing of ever finding the truth: When asked who his story is intended for, he finally replies, “maybe it’s just for me."

Of a piece with the author’s Dust on Her Tongue (1992) as an exploration of political violence and its troubling reverberations.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1646-7

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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