East meets West in this witty and warm picaresque.


In this engaging first novel from Ireland resident Somerville, a dissolute Irish journalist based in Cairo makes a last-ditch effort to investigate a story that just might salvage his career.

Badly hobbled in a bar brawl and subsequently fired from his job as senior reporter with the English language Cairo Herald (there are no junior reporters), Fin, who over the course of years has failed to patch together a meaningful life, ponders his next move in a squalid apartment. Drunk and desperate, he calls his only friend, Farouk, who responds like a brother, even though Fin a) is an infidel and b) has been out of touch for more than six months. Before the muezzins call the faithful to prayer at first light, Farouk’s chauffeur drags Fin out of bed and deposits him in Mena village, the furthest suburb of Cairo at the edge of the Sahara Desert, where Farouk lives in the shadow of the Great Pyramid. As their first cup of mint tea cools, Farouk begins to tell Fin about Skinhead Said, a neighbor who may have found a hidden tomb laden with treasures underneath his home. Fin believes this story may be his ticket back into journalism, but trying to get a straight story out of Farouk is like persuading him that religion is only a superstition. A desperate Irishman can be just as dogged as a proud Egyptian, however. Over the course of 24 hours, in an attempt to get the full story out of Farouk, Fin faces down a U.S. secret-service agent with a Rambo complex, a pint-sized king’s sadistic bodyguard and a prized Arabian stallion with a temper. Somerville successfully weaves details about local custom and cuisine into this humorous novel, which will at least leave readers eager to sample some Egyptian delicacies.

East meets West in this witty and warm picaresque.

Pub Date: July 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06660-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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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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