From India, Kakir’s second (The Ascetic of Desire, 2000, not reviewed) tells turgidly of a young Brahmin’s growth into a guru.

Writing as an outsider about mysticism, Kakir offers a simple plot: one boy grows up to be a holy man, then another follows in his footsteps. The first, Gopal, starts out in the small village of Deogarh, 30 miles north of Jaipur, in the 1930s. Cursed—though he’s also gifted—with androgynous physical traits (breasts, a beautiful singing voice), Gopal never fits in with his peers, but he is highly sought after as a singer at religious ceremonies. After a strange encounter with a travelling tantrik, Gopal is overcome by spiritual madness and his mother takes him on a healing pilgrimage to Balaji. There, he comes under the eye of a travelling older sadhu named Madhavacharya, who becomes the boy’s mentor and takes him into the monastery at Galta. After some feeble monastery intrigue—another monk wants to modernize and tries to oust Madhavacharya—Gopal sets out to live alone in a life of selfless contemplation. Eventually he encounters Nangta, a.k.a. “The Naked One,” a more powerful sadhu than Madhavacharya, who becomes his guru. Years later, in the independent India of the 1960s, Gopal, now a full-fledged elder known as Ram Das Baba, finds a promising youngster named Vivek, who he thinks could take his place. One day after meeting with Gopal, Vivek plunges into mental confusion: “His mind was in turmoil as he cycled back to the city. He could not understand what had happened. Was that awful emptiness and the utter disconnectedness of things a revelation of the secret of the universe? Or of deep structures of his own psyche? Was it some kind of suggestion implanted in his mind by the Baba?” Similar passages, unfortunately, are characteristic of the whole.

Hazy and unrewarding.

Pub Date: June 24, 2002

ISBN: 1-58567-210-6

Page Count: 251

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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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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