GIRL AT WAR

Elegiac, and understandably if unrelievedly so, with a matter-of-factness about death and uprootedness. A promising start.

Understated, self-assured roman à clef of a young girl’s coming of age in war-torn Croatia.

In this promising debut, Novic tells the story of 10-year-old Ana, for whom “the war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes”: sent to fetch smokes for an indulgent godfather, she returns puzzling over the shopkeeper’s query whether she wants Serbian or Croatian. A cigarette is a cigarette is a cigarette, until it’s not. Then, like everything else, a packet of Filter 160s takes on the powers of shibboleth, something Ana and her best friend, Luka, have to learn, these distinctions not being inborn no matter what the nationalists insist. And imagine what happens, as Ana does, in neighboring Bosnia, “a confusing third category,” where people used both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets and probably smoked a third kind of tobacco. The war moves from abstraction to bitter reality soon enough, and Ana finds herself in a swirl of rumor (“Have you heard? The president exploded right at his desk!”) and motion, whisked across the continent and thence to America, where time passes and Ana finds herself explaining the world to uncomprehending young people: “I told him about Rahela’s illness and MediMission and Sarajevo. About the roadblock and the forest and how I’d escaped….When I finished, Brian was still holding my hand, but he didn’t say anything.” The tutelary spirits of W.G. Sebald (whom the aforementioned Brian deems “a bit of a German apologist”) and Rebecca West hover over the proceedings, and just as West once lamented that everyone she knew in the Balkans of the 1930s was dead by the 1950s, Ana assigns herself the scarifying task of sorting through the rubble of her homeland and reclaiming what can be saved of it—and of herself.

Elegiac, and understandably if unrelievedly so, with a matter-of-factness about death and uprootedness. A promising start.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

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. 21, 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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