Beautifully conceived and executed: a small gem.


As elaborate as origami, this elegant fourth from Otto (The Passion Dream Book, 1997, etc.) follows the lives of San Franciscans in search of love and pleasure.

Filled with unusual elements—reproductions of Japanese wood blocks, photos of Duchamp’s work, an Elizabeth Bishop poem, a brief history of Vermeer’s women and their letters—the story could have fallen victim to its collection of esoterica but instead is elevated to a sort of quiet chant or meditation on people living the accidental life. In a book thematically inspired by 17th-century Japan’s “floating worlds” (pleasure zones focusing on the world’s momentary, usually sensual, delights), the large cast of characters are floating in life, living for the moment in the most transient of cities. They all intersect at the Youki Singe Tea Room, where Elodie keeps a pillow book (a Japanese journal of observations) on the developments of their lives, with the rundown teahouse serving as host to their unfolding stories. Charming Ray, a drug dealer by trade, and his girlfriend Gracie (and their friends, who eventually show up in chapters of their own) party-hop, ending up in equal parts stoned, disillusioned, and in awe under the massive columns of the Palace of Fine Arts. Nash the artist falls in love with Suzanne, first attracted and then repelled by the intentional emptiness (a cardboard box serves as her dining table) of her domestic life. The beautiful and mysterious Jelly roams aimlessly through the novel until she falls in love with an Iranian boy (after a brief tryst she sends him pictures of herself in places all over San Francisco) who in turn falls in love with a transvestite. The conclusion returns to Elodie, who when house-sitting for strangers (people tied to her in ways she doesn’t know) finds an adulterous love letter in the homeowner’s overcoat, an appropriate end to this collection of vignettes celebrating the ephemeral.

Beautifully conceived and executed: a small gem.

Pub Date: March 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50545-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?