An authentic and tense portrait of everyday people dealing with war.

SONG OF LATVIA

A debut historical novel focuses on the plight of Latvians during World War II.

It is 1940 and some 8,000 people in Latvia are supposed to be singing as part of the annual Song Festival in Daugavpils. But the singing is delayed because President Kārlis Ulmanis has an important message: Soviet troops have invaded the country. When a woman named Mija Adamsons hears this news, she immediately thinks of her husband, Aleks. Aleks is a colonel in the Latvian army. If Latvia is to be engaged in military operations, her husband will surely be involved. Mija rushes to her home in the countryside where she later learns that Latvia is to become a Soviet republic. While Aleks resigns from the army rather than fight alongside the Reds, this is only the beginning of some difficult years for the couple. The Soviets quickly seize power; religion is banned; and many Latvian citizens are arrested. As conditions for people like Mija gradually worsen, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. If the advancing Germans can drive out the Russian invaders, perhaps things won’t be so bad. Yet once the Nazis arrive, it is hardly a cause for celebration. Byram’s story deftly illustrates the sheer terror in Latvia during World War II. How could anyone survive the horrors brought on by these two merciless forces? At one point, Mija feels like she is “imprisoned in an ice tomb.” Aleks, with his military background, comes to realize the sheer madness of the atrocities committed by the Germans (“He understood war, at least he thought he did, until now”). While such sentiments are hardly exaggerations given the circumstances, other details can be more obvious than instructive. Most of the story’s characters tend to express their exact feelings without much room for ambiguity. One man asserts rather unhelpfully that “it’s so difficult to find out anything these days.” Since Latvia is, of course, a contested land during World War II, could readers expect anything less? Nevertheless, even if some facets of the book lack complexity, the author skillfully paints the magnitude of the conflict in all its striking colors.

An authentic and tense portrait of everyday people dealing with war.           

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73412-200-8

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Russian Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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