American novels about protest have been thin on the ground since the days of Ken Kesey and Edward Abbey. The genre deserves...

YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST

A ground-level reimagining of the violent protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, told from a host of perspectives.

The emotional core of Yapa’s debut novel is the fraughtly named Victor, a 19-year-old who’s come to Seattle after a few years of globe-trotting to sharpen his social-justice sensibilities—and to confront his stepfather, the fraughtly named Bishop, head of the city’s police force. The downtown streets are swarming with protesters determined to halt the movement of WTO delegates, who are seen as pillaging poorer nations in the name of free trade, and the story bounces dutifully among a handful of characters representing the various factions. There’s John Henry, a middle-aged and weathered protest vet; Timothy, a hotheaded cop impatient with nonviolent resistance; King, a live-wire tough-talker; Julia, a cop who’s softened following a stint in Los Angeles policing the Rodney King riots; and Charles, a Sri Lankan delegate baffled by the chaos in the streets but determined to make his meetings. Yapa’s grasp of the pre–9/11 global diaspora is sound, and he’s knowledgeable about the tactics that both protesters and law enforcement use against each other. But lacking much in the way of deep characterization—we are meant to believe that Bishop made a bonfire of Victor’s mother’s lefty books and that Victor fled the country because of it—the novel is largely a parade of pat sentiments and facile contradictions. King is committed to nonviolence—but does she have a violent past? Charles cares for his countrymen—but is he selling them out? The purpler prose only highlights the thinness of the storytelling: Bishop has “a heart full of loss and a head full of doom”; chanting, John Henry says, is “how we hold the fear in our mouths and transform it into gold.”

American novels about protest have been thin on the ground since the days of Ken Kesey and Edward Abbey. The genre deserves a better revival effort than this.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38653-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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