A finely wrought, heartbreaking self-portrait.


The quiet horror of self-destructive love fuels this beautifully proportioned novella; since Embers (2001), this is the third work of the Hungarian (1900–89) to be translated into English.

Esther tells her story with reflective calm. The middle-aged woman lives simply with Nunu, an older female relative, in their family home in the country. The sale of almonds from their garden keeps them afloat. Some 25 years before, Esther had fallen passionately in love with Lajos, “the only man I ever loved.” Lajos had appeared to return her love yet went on, inexplicably, to marry her kid sister Vilma. At that time Lajos enthralled her whole family, but especially her brother Laci; the two men had lived together in the capital when college students. Unfortunately Lajos was a charismatic fraud, always lying to cover up his debts. Esther had seen through him from the start, but had been swept away by the desire to live dangerously, Lajos’s philosophy. Back to the present. A telegram arrives from Lajos: He’s coming to visit for the day. Wise old Nunu knows he must be after money. Lajos brings with him his grown children (Vilma died long ago) and two other people, strangers. Márai shades his character subtly. Lajos still has his old magic and is much more appealing than his equally predatory daughter, but once alone with Esther, he asks her if the house still has a mortgage, and almost immediately she signs over the house to him, insisting only that Nunu’s future be protected. Esther is under no illusions. She knows that Lajos is, as the public notary warns her, “a scoundrel.” So why does she do it? Is she hoping for a miracle? Does she want to live dangerously again? Is it because, as an old friend says, “Doomed love cannot die”? Puzzling out Esther’s surrender is what gives the story its rueful charm.

A finely wrought, heartbreaking self-portrait.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4500-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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