An eloquent historical novel that explores race and heritage.


Early 20th-century history informs a fictional family tale about racial prejudice and identity.

In this novel, Georgia O’Brien believes that her ancestors are white and Irish until her mother suffers a medical crisis. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis leads doctors to investigate the family’s genetic background in search of a cell donor. Georgia’s family is shocked to learn that an African American donor would be the best match. Unfortunately, Georgia’s mother does not recover after the treatment. Following her death, the hospital connects Georgia with the donor, a distant cousin named Lawrence McKenny. He explains that their family was descended from siblings born on Malaga Island, Maine. After the Civil War, the island was populated by a mix of white, African American, and East Indian denizens whose intermarriage resulted in a spectrum of complexions. The islanders lived in poverty as “a heathen mix of races” deemed undesirable by authorities and a burden on society. When the islanders were threatened with eviction in 1912, they fled. Those who could pass as white usually did. Intermittent flashbacks peppered throughout the narrative tell the story of the Malagaites in the decade before leaving the island, largely through the eyes of wealthy patrons who bring education to the island. Unfortunately, ingrained views about race and eugenics prevail (“Something had to be done to correct the blight that this degenerate community of half-breeds was casting”), ending with the community disbanding. The revelation of this surprising background blesses Georgia with a new family through her cousins. Ultimately, a greater understanding of the harrowing past causes her to redefine the present. In this illuminating and lucid novel, Merrill (Magic, Mystery & Murder, 2019, etc.) deftly fictionalizes a shameful episode in American history that recently received limited exposure through research projects and public radio broadcasts. Her impressive dedication to thoroughly researching the subject is demonstrated by her inclusion of 50 pages of reproduced original source articles that are intriguing ancillary material. The author’s powerful generational story skillfully questions whether people in modern times have become more enlightened in their views on race and identity. This is a valuable look at an American tragedy. Few books on the Malaga Island calamity exist. Hemingway’s The Malaga Chronicles tells a tale that’s more metaphysical than historical.

An eloquent historical novel that explores race and heritage.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73385-550-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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