JAJOUKA ROLLING STONE

A FABLE OF GODS AND HEROES

Ostensibly a novel about the legendary Moroccan tribe of musicians, this awkward narrative by the rock critic Davis (Hammer of the Gods, 1985) reads more like a work of pop ethnomusicology. One suspects that lawyers had more to do with its classification than any generic considerations by the author. In any case, Davis's tale of ``Roman gods and Muslim saints, Rolling Stones and Moroccan tribes'' is a fine travelogue of modern Africa, with walk-on speaking roles by such real-life figures as William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bernardo Bertolucci. What they all share is a fascination with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a tribal group from a remote Moroccan hill town who preserve an Islamic type of music brought from medieval Spain when the Moors were expelled in the 15th century. Central to their musical celebrations is a Greco- Roman Arcadian ritual in which a local young man plays the role of Bou Jeloud, a half-man, half-goat flutist with mystical powers of fertility. Davis' narrative takes its shape from the narrator's journalistic efforts to make the musicians' way of life known throughout the world, inspired by the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, who first recorded their sound in the late 60's. Throughout the 70's, the unnamed narrator tries to sell various editors on the story of this magical group, but their commercial appeal remains limited, their legend obscure. Finally, in the 80's, an ambitious entrepreneur brings Jajouka to Europe, and this tour is the beginning of the end. No longer a premodern band of folk musicians, the group is split by bickering over money and leadership. Amazingly, though, the narrator never once considers what is a basic notion among contemporary anthropologists: his own role as participant-observer and how it inevitably alters the history of this once-unsullied music. The trite observations about cultures clashing and the wide- eyed acceptance of Jajouka's mystical power make this weak social science. And Davis's lumpy narration, with its perfunctory dialogue, hardly redeems itself as fiction.

Pub Date: July 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-42119-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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