A bleak look at a bitter life that may be too much for readers to bear.

Jesusita

In 1945, a widowed Mexican immigrant faces powerfully difficult conditions in Ruiz’s (A Lawyer, 2012, etc.) latest novel.

With four children to feed and a recently deceased husband, migrant worker Jesusita González struggles to earn a living as a picker following California’s crops. Her children do their best but often exasperate their mother—particularly Paulina, the most frequent recipient of her wrath. Jesusita’s world changes significantly, however, when she’s convinced to attend a pilgrimage to a holy shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe. There, she has a profoundly religious experience that deepens her faith. She befriends her local priest and becomes active in the church community. Unfortunately, though, she still experiences anger and rage. Poor Paulina is still her primary target, and the beatings are severe; Jesusita simply keeps Paulina out of school until the cuts and bruises fade. One day, Jesusita succumbs to her anger once again—and this time, she goes way too far. After struggling with her daughter on a riverbank, the girl gets swept away by the current. Did Jesusita push her? Was Paulina possessed by the devil? Did Jesusita want her to die? Jesusita struggles with these difficult questions, as well as those of the police and her neighbors, and her efforts take a disastrous toll on her family, on her body, and on her mind. Ruiz vividly displays his knowledge of the harsh conditions experienced by Mexican immigrants. However, his characters are just as harsh, and as a protagonist, Jesusita is about as unsympathetic as they come: she rarely expresses affection for her children, instead seeing them as just a burden to be borne. She feels no remorse for her beatings of Paulina, believing that they “weren’t sins.” But in this novel, things are hard for everyone. One subplot, for example, follows a woman who was being paid for sexual favors at 6 years old. Another tells of a mentally challenged boy who isn’t allowed inside the house of his adoptive family. The misery in this novel is abundant and acute, and as a result, many readers may agree with one character who remarks, “I’ve heard enough about Jesusita and her kids.”

A bleak look at a bitter life that may be too much for readers to bear.

Pub Date: May 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-937484-33-0

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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