An overload of material—and pages—obscures the sincere heart of this earnest story.


Two sisters—close when they were children but divided by pain and problems as they grew into adulthood—have struggled ceaselessly with the bonds that connect them.

There’s no shortage of issues in Canadian writer Nawaz’s (Mother Superior, 2008) first full-length work of fiction. Race, illegal immigration, anorexia, and single parenting are just some of the lesser tributaries swelling the main storytelling flow, devoted to the complicated relationship between sisters Beena and Sadhana Singh. Born of a Punjabi Sikh father and an Irish-born American mother, the girls live over the family business—a bagel shop—in Montreal. Their father’s sudden death is followed by an arson attack on the building that engenders anxiety issues in younger sister Sadhana. Then their mother dies as the result of a celebratory meal prepared by the girls. Now, under the not-so-tender care of an uncle, the teenagers begin to go off the rails: 14-year-old Sadhana develops a life-threatening eating disorder while Beena, at 16, gets pregnant. Packed full of both content and introspective narration, the novel is ponderous and often downbeat, shuttling back and forth between the girls’ pasts and Beena’s present as she copes with the aftermath of Sadhana’s death, announced on the first page, for which her son, Quinn, blames her. As Beena sets about the sad business of sorting through her sister’s possessions, additional plot points emerge involving Quinn, the father he’s never known, and the fight to protect an immigrant family Sadhana was helping. Nawaz brings serious commitment to her ambitiously large tale, but its sluggishness and cast of cool characters work against the reader’s involvement, while the prose, often awkwardly intense—“More and more, regret has simply become the shadow I would cast if I stood in the sun”—sometimes makes matters worse.

An overload of material—and pages—obscures the sincere heart of this earnest story.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77089-009-1

Page Count: 456

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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