An intriguing, sometimes-florid, but fast-paced, novelistic account of a European expedition into the wilds of Tibet by an...

Race to Tibet

Schiller (Spy Island, 2013, etc.) fictionalizes the voyage of an ill-fated and little-known French party to Tibet during the 1890s.

Insatiable French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot burns to mount an expedition to Tibet to enter the mysterious city of Lhasa, where no Westerner has ever been. Even the intrepid Russian-Polish trekker Nikolai Prejevalsky fails to reach the fabled city that Tibet has declared off-limits to Europeans, and his travels even eventually cost him his life. One problem plagues Bonvalot in carrying out his improbable plan: he lacks the financial wherewithal to organize such an ambitious venture. To the rescue comes the Duke of Chartres, whose noisome and mischievous wastrel son, Prince Henri, has made a distraction of himself through his wanton ways. Bonvalot promises the Duke to take Henri along for the ride in exchange for the Duke’s fiscal backing. Despite Bonvalot’s protests, the winsome Camille Dancourt wants to find her long-vanished husband, lost somewhere in Tibet. The self-assured Dancourt joins this unlikely crew as it plods ever farther and higher into the thin Tibetan air that makes the hapless band increasingly sick. In addition to battling nature, Bonvalot finds himself tormented by Prejevalsky’s ghost, which appears at inauspicious moments. He doesn’t know whether the ghastly specter is caused by his own mental instability or if the phantom actually exists. Brooklyn author Schiller, an apt storyteller, spins out the many exploits, the gnawing hunger, and the searing cold that befall the adventurers and their companions, including the colorful Belgian missionary Father Dedeken, as they wander deep into the far reaches of the Tibetan hinterlands. In one episode, the group gets caught in an avalanche that is a “dash close for comfort,” says the French prince, sounding for all the world like a posh English chap. This cultural sleight of hand works, though, and Schiller evokes the Victorian era and its explorer ethos through a tale that in style and design should prove compelling to the historical fiction fan.

An intriguing, sometimes-florid, but fast-paced, novelistic account of a European expedition into the wilds of Tibet by an accomplished thriller and historical adventure writer.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-25409-7

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Tradewinds Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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