Rapturously poetic in places, very funny in others, yet the novel ultimately challenges both patience and comprehension.

THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE

Readers who succumb to the spell of Rushdie’s convoluted, cross-continental fable may find it enchanting; those with less patience could consider it interminable.

This is a very different sort of novel for Rushdie (Shalimar the Clown, 2005, etc.), partly based in Renaissance Italy and intensely researched (there are pages of entries listed in its bibliography), though themes of East and West, love and betrayal, religion and unbelief, sex and sex, are familiar from previous work. It’s plain that the author worked hard on this deliriously ambitious book, and so must the reader. Despite the title, there is more than one enchantress of Florence, and other key characters have multiple names and perhaps identities as well. Some characters might even be imaginary. The plot commences with the arrival of a blonde-haired vagabond who has traveled from his native Florence to deliver a message from the Queen of England to “the emperor Abdul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad…known since his childhood as Akbar, meaning ‘the great,’ and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory.” And so on. The man from the Christian West and the emperor of the Muslim East develop a strong bond, mainly through the stories spun by the former (in which he assumes multiple names and identities) to the latter. Yet at one point, even Akbar issues “[a] curse on all storytellers,” telling his visitor “You’re taking too long. . .You can’t draw this out forever...” Machiavelli and Medicis make their appearances, as the plot shifts to the impossibly beautiful seductress of the title, who also finds her way from Italy to the emperor, and who ultimately gives clues to her identity by explaining, “The Mirror’s daughter was the mirror of her mother and of the woman whose mirror the Mirror had been.”

Rapturously poetic in places, very funny in others, yet the novel ultimately challenges both patience and comprehension.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-50433-4

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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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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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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