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THE DARLING

Banks never makes it easy, but this is worth reading as a warning to anyone not chary of the children of privilege.

The Pulitzer-nominated author of Cloudsplitter (1998), among others, looks unsparingly at the bitter life of a 1960s revolutionary.

Banks’s portrait of John Brown showed readers an uncompromised understanding of salvation-mindedness that he applies with surgical skill here, in the story of Hannah Musgrave, only child of a Benjamin Spock–like leftist pediatrician and his supportive but self-effacing wife. Educated at Rosemary Hall and Brandeis, Hannah, a gifted mathematician and mechanic, chucked med school at the last minute to join the Weather Underground, determined to overturn the government. In the thick of the dramatic unfoldings of the late ’60s, Hannah skipped bail in Chicago to go deeper underground, lived with a succession of revolutionary cells and lovers of both sexes, and ultimately fled to Africa with a trust-funded fellow Weatherman from Cincinnati. Striking out on her own, Hannah crosses from Ghana into Liberia, the strange semi-colony established by American abolitionists before the Civil War, where she finds that the revolutionary past she’s tried to hide is an open secret—and that her whiteness is both protective and problematic in the odd society founded by freed slaves. Her medical training leads to a job collecting data from chimpanzees that have been taken from the wild for infection with hepatitis for research, and Hannah’s attachment to the sad primates is the first true affection she’s felt for anyone in her life—stronger even than the bond for the three boys she will bear after a cynical marriage to American-educated Woodrow Sundiata, a minor Liberian government official from a favored tribe. Neither her tribal connection nor her education is enough to save the family from the disasters that follow the fall of the corrupt president—but Hannah’s connections are enough to bring her yet another and undeservedly good life back in the States.

Banks never makes it easy, but this is worth reading as a warning to anyone not chary of the children of privilege.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-019735-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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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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