A seminal work by an underread master. Required for all students of the human condition.
A woman relives the people and places of her life while stranded in the middle of the ocean.
The premise of Argentinian writer Ocampo’s posthumously published novella, which she worked on for the final 25 years of her life, is a grand metaphor for the authorial condition. On her way to visit family in Cape Town, the nameless narrator somehow slips over the railing of her trans-Atlantic ship and regains consciousness in the water, watching “the ship…calmly moving away.” Adrift, facing almost certain death, she makes a pact with St. Rita, the "arbiter of the impossible," that she will write a “dictionary of memories,” and publish it in one year’s time, if she is saved. What follows is an intensely focused series of vignettes in which the characters of the narrator’s life once more walk through their dramas. There's Leandro, a handsome and feckless young doctor with “a face as variable as the weather”; Irene, his intensely focused lover and a medical student in her own right; Gabriela, Irene's obsessive daughter; and Verónica, a not-so-innocent ingénue. These central characters’ stories entwine and begin to form the basis of a tale that includes our narrator—who is present as a voyeur but never an active participant—but her drifting consciousness is just as likely to alight upon less crucial secondary characters like Worm, Gabriela’s countryside companion, or Lily and Lillian, devoted friends who fall in love with the same man because “instead of kissing him they were kissing each other.” As the narrator’s memories progress, and sometimes repeat, they grow increasingly nightmarish in their domestic surrealism. Meanwhile, as all chance of rescue fades, her sense of self is diluted by the immense mystery of the sea. Completed in the late 1980s, at a time when Ocampo was grappling with the effects of Alzheimer’s, the book can be read as a treatise on the dissolution of selfhood in the face of the disease. However, its tactile insistence on the recurrence of memory, its strangeness, and its febrile reality are themes that mark the entirety of Ocampo’s oeuvre and articulate something more enduring even than death. “I’m going to die soon! If I die before I finish what I’m writing no one will remember me, not even the person I loved most in the world,” the narrator exclaims in the final pages. This urgency and despair seem to sum up the central tenet of the artist’s condition—even in the final extreme, the act of making is a tonic against obscurity. Art is the cure for death.A seminal work by an underread master. Required for all students of the human condition.
Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019
Page Count: 114
Publisher: City Lights
Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019
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by Hanya Yanagihara ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2015
The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.
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Best Books Of 2015
National Book Award Finalist
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
Page Count: 720
Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015
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by Harper Lee ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 11, 1960
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
Page Count: 323
Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960
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