Sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh and often insightful, Gjoka’s poems take readers on a journey, leading them to new...

SHADOWS SPEAK IN RIDDLES

Gjoka’s first book of poems in English offers readers a rare chance to see the small moments of life through another’s eyes.

This latest offering from Gjoka contains poems that cover such topics as birth, death, lovemaking and what it means to be human. While readers may not connect to every poem, most will find something that resonates with them. The author offers a supreme command of language, image and metaphor, and readers will find themselves lost in those poems that touch them deeply. He is versatile in his poetic structure, alternating between moments of breeziness and brutality without sacrificing the beauty of language or the intensity of his images. Though translated from the original Albanian (with the original text appearing on adjacent pages), Gjoka’s poems retain much of their lyrical and rhythmic qualities; “The old stems, / Old and dying / Have burst into new flowers, / Vanished stars that left space / Long ago” (“Love the Scents of Every Flower”). Readers of foreign literature will understand the changes that take place during translation, since poetry contains many idioms and difficult to convey allusions. However, most of these poems seem to retain their power in English, and allow readers to view the world through the lens of a different culture; “Some say there is a snake / We must slay / Filled with venom of religion / Of some other distant lands, / Of some poor, unhappy people / Scattered through some oil fields” (“Here So Close to the Capitol”). Readers may be turned off initially by the fact that these poems are translated, but a taste of what the author offers should help them over their hesitation and allow them to embrace these lines. Poetry buffs will likely find something to treasure in this collection and readers who find themselves drawn to its rhythms and images should welcome this work into their library.

Sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh and often insightful, Gjoka’s poems take readers on a journey, leading them to new insights and helping them see the world through a unique perspective.

Pub Date: March 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456892999

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2011

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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