LABYRINTH

A sober, unsensational "inside" account of the Orlando Letelier case, co-authored by the federal prosecutor who handled it from the day when the Chilean ex-diplomat and an assistant were killed by a car bomb in the middle of Washington, D.C. The title is apt. Sorting out the facts and running down leads (many of them bogus) took prosecutor Propper and a few determined FBI agents into a murky network of espionage and international terrorism, involving several bands of anti-Castro Cubans and the fight-wing Chile government's notorious secret police (DINA). Almost from the start, suspicion of involvement in the mechanics of the killing fell on members of a New Jersey-based Cuban exile group, and the guiding hand seemed to have been DINA's. But tying it all together took a year and a half. The key to the puzzle: a mysterious "blond Chilean"—named Juan Williams, or Kenneth Enyart, or Andres Wilson—who kept popping up at significant times. "Williams" turned out to be Michael Townley, an American-born high-level DINA assassin who specialized in state-of-the-art bombs and dabbled in biological weapons. Though the Chileans stonewalled and the international-relations bureaucracy cranked slowly, Propper Finally extradited Townley to the US where (reluctantly) the feds traded a ten-year sentence for his testimony against two Cuban exile defendants. Unfortunate footnotes: the Cuban defendants were ultimately acquitted at a second trial, two other implicated Cubans vanished, and the government imposed only wrist-slap sanctions on Chile. While Dinges and Landau's Assassination on Embassy Row (1980) covers the facts of the case ably and is stronger on the intricacies of Chilean politics, Propper and Branch provide more background on Townley (from interviews), and answer Dinges and Landau's lingering question (why did it take so long to crack the case?) with an unsettling, behind-the-scenes look at the lack of cooperation among U.S. government agencies that slowed the investigation and threatened at times to stymie it. Exhaustively researched, well-written, and spooky.

Pub Date: April 9, 1982

ISBN: 0140066837

Page Count: 660

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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