A biographical novel with an overly reverential tone but filled with intriguing historical tidbits.



Welch’s (Why the Monkees Matter, 2016, etc.) historical novel pays tribute to the real-life Filippo Mazzei, an Italian surgeon, merchant, revolutionary, and writer who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Mazzei is born on Christmas Day, 1730, in the small Tuscan town of Poggio a Caiano, the third son of a mother whose love and devotion were reserved for her firstborn, Jacopo. Fortunately, Mazzei’s paternal grandfather is a kind, generous role model through his first seven years. And the sting of his mother’s favoritism for Jacopo, a manipulative thief, serves Mazzei well, propelling him into a life of adventure and accomplishment: “I will spend the rest of my life proving you have given all your love to the wrong son,” he tells his mother. He studies medicine in Florence, then moves to the port city of Livorno to practice. Even as a child, he’d begun questioning the injustices in life, but in Livorno, he begins interacting with a wide circle of intellectuals with whom he debates history and philosophy. Eventually, he moves to London and opens a shop in 1764, establishing himself as a successful importer. More critically, he meets Benjamin Franklin; it’s a connection that leads to Mazzei’s 1773 voyage to the American Colonies, where he builds his new home adjacent to that of Thomas Jefferson—just in time for the American Revolution. Welch’s volume rests somewhere between novel and biography, lacking the dramatic passion of the former and the cited source material of the latter. Still, she offers an unusual, if at times hagiographic, portrait of a man whose importance to the founding of the United States has indeed been generally overlooked. Most intriguing are the sections detailing Mazzei’s close friendship with Jefferson, which led the two to work together on the text of the Declaration of Independence. Their wide-ranging conversations, as depicted by Welch, reveal as much about Jefferson as they do about Mazzei; they include the latter’s long-held belief in equality and justice as well as their shared interests in agriculture, architecture, language, and religion.

A biographical novel with an overly reverential tone but filled with intriguing historical tidbits.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-07-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2018

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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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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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