A modest but valuable addition to the canon of migrant fiction.

THE HOUSING LARK

A reissue of Selvon’s 1965 novel about a group of Caribbean immigrants pooling their resources to buy a home in England.

Novels like Zadie Smith’s NW and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane are descendants of the work of Selvon (1923-1994), a Trinidadian novelist who moved to London in 1950 and soon began chronicling the lives of Caribbean immigrants there. Those immigrants arrived to address England’s labor shortage, but as Battersby, the lead character here, soon learns, being welcomed as workers still leaves them ostracized from mainstream British society. His apartment is shabby and overpriced, but bigoted authorities won’t hear one man’s complaints about living conditions. So with a few fellow West Indian immigrants, he proposes strength in numbers: The group will collectively buy a piece of property. For Selvon’s purposes, the scheme is largely an opportunity to explore the diversity of the Caribbean immigrant community. (“To Englishers...if a man say he come from Tobago or St. Lucia or Grenada, you none the wiser.”) To that end, the novel is constructed around seriocomic “ballads” about each of the individual participants. One man pretended to arrive from India to score better housing; one man was a hardcore carouser only to fall for the woman who chastised him the most about it; one man’s musical ambitions are waylaid by a drug bust. Serving as a counterpoint to the men’s nonserious approach to getting ahead is a group of women who try to keep them on task, though they're disregarded out of sheer misogyny. Plotwise the novel is a bit shabby, its resolution pat (Selvon's 1956 novel, The Lonely Londoners, covers similar turf and received more acclaim), but the lyricism of Selvon’s narration, evoking Bat’s voice, and his keen eye for the ironies that infuse the immigrant experience and the racism it contends with make it a sharp and surprisingly funny short novel.

A modest but valuable addition to the canon of migrant fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313396-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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