A raw depiction of one man’s troubled life and the web of social forces that worked to shape it.


A rumination on the way systems of power and currents of hope in modern-day Malaysia can influence a life.

When Lee Hock Lye clubs a Bangladeshi stranger to death with a two-foot piece of wood, everyone is searching for a motive. Even after Ah Hock has served his three-year prison sentence, an American-educated sociology student wants to interview him for her dissertation. She wants to understand his story. “Why? That’s what you want to know. Just like everyone else,” he confronts her early in the novel, “But like the others, you’re going to be disappointed.” Ah Hock himself has spent months reckoning with the why of it all, but to no end. “I tried to excavate the layers of my thoughts,” he explains, “digging patiently the way I used to in the mud on our farm when I was a child.” Still, Ah Hock invites the student into his home and, over the course of several months, shares the details of his past, hoping she can “set the record straight” where his defense attorney got it wrong. Aw (Five Star Billionaire, 2013, etc.) drops readers into each phase of Ah Hock’s life, beginning with his birth in a small Malaysian fishing village, moving through his childhood days as a passive onlooker to his friend Keong’s reckless ambition, and capturing in warm detail the sense of “permanence” and “abundance” he once felt building a farm with his mother. As he crafts Ah Hock’s narrative, Aw masterfully conveys his protagonist's specificity while also weaving together a larger picture of the class divisions, racial biases, unjust working conditions, and gender roles that pulse under the surface. Through his interviews with the student—and his reflections on his role as a subject—Ah Hock shares the vital pieces of his story that escaped cross-examination.

A raw depiction of one man’s troubled life and the web of social forces that worked to shape it.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-28724-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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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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