RED EARTH AND POURING RAIN

Everyone has a story to tell in this impressive debut from Bombay-bred, Houston-based Chandra: a wide-ranging, often riveting patchwork of India's past and present and the clash of cultures in colonial and post-colonial times. Abhay returns to India after graduating from Pomona College, restless and unhappy; as a way of relieving tension he shoots an old monkey that's been stealing from his family for years. The monkey, on death's door, remembers its former life as an 18th- century poet, and in an agreement with the Lord of Death is allowed to live to tell its story (by means of typewriter!) to those interested. Abhay, his family, and an ever-increasing crowd gather to hear the tale of Sikander and Sanjay, the warrior and the poet, Anglo-Indian brothers who know the curse of being neither fish nor fowl in the early days of the British Raj. In their serpentine sagafrom miraculous birth and family tragedy to hard lessons of colonialismboth come to prominence only to turn on each other when Sanjay makes a pact with Death, bartering away his mortality in order to fight the English forever, at home and abroad, while Sikander in his old age dies protecting them. Meanwhile, Abhay, asked to fill in whenever the monkey tires, relates his own story of ennui and displacement in America, a tale in which he and two friends drop their studies and hit the road looking for heaven, which for him amounts to a moment of glory in defeating his girlfriend's father, a racist Texas judge, on the cricket pitch. In the end, he finds his storytelling is just beginning, and for him, too, it becomes a matter of life and death. The magical realities of India and Americathe heat of armor in battle, for instance, vs. the heat of a windshield on the freewayare disparate enough to jar sometimes as the two stories meet. Still: a richly textured and engrossing debut. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 1995

ISBN: 0-316-13276-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1995

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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