Despite a few weak spots, an enticing first book that reveals plenty of potential.

WAR WITH PIGEONS

A young, successful lawyer living in New York City discovers that his closest friend harbored secrets built on shame and love.

Peter and Simon became friends in grade school when they discovered themselves to be not just the only Asian students but also part of a very small crowd of non-Jewish children. Over the years they shared triumphs and setbacks, providing emotional and financial support to each other as needed. Peter never expected to be acting as executor of his friend’s estate, but when Simon dies from self-inflicted stab wounds, Peter is left to work out the details of the will and recover from the shock and grief as best he can. Part of the shock comes from meeting Simon’s girlfriend Catherine and their daughter Joanna for the first time at the funeral. A successful businessman, Simon left behind a journal detailing the pivotal moments of his life (graduation, falling in love, depression) and through reading it, Peter gains further understanding of his friend, much of which Peter was protected from. He also gains a clearer view of the malicious intrigues surrounding the Chaebol, an elite group of powerful South Korean immigrants who may have played a hand in Simon’s death. Kim nicely handles intricate, recurring themes and images, such as that of the pigeon Simon saved from his mother’s balcony. The author is also talented at portraying a rough side of the city—room salons where men can purchase the attentions of beautiful women—with respect and compassion. Kim’s characters are precisely written yet maintain enough of a spark of vitality to keep readers caring and concerned. The story occasionally slows to a sluggish pace, specifically during the 40-plus pages of journal extraction, and a few of the plot twists seem based more on narrative convenience than natural development. Flashbacks and tangents sometimes overpower the quieter thrust of the contemporary mystery.

Despite a few weak spots, an enticing first book that reveals plenty of potential.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0984435937

Page Count: 394

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2010

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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