Although overly schematic, Otto makes these eight women and the differing lenses through which they view the 20th century...


Otto (A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, 2002, etc.) combines a paean to the art form with an argument for women’s rights in these interlocking stories of eight fictional woman photographers, clearly inspired by actual photographers, over the course of the 20th century.

While studying photochemistry in 1909 Dresden, Cymbeline discovers a soul mate in her middle-aged professor. The handful of photographs that record their brief, doomed affair are lost when a maid sets fire to Cymbeline’s San Francisco studio in 1917. Married to someone else by then and expected to put her domestic responsibilities first, Cymbeline abandons her work in portraiture but finds an outlet in photographing her garden. Slightly younger British photographer Amadora’s commitment to the art form is initially more a matter of happenstance and suffragette dabbling than passion. But when her husband returns damaged from World War I, Amadora uses color photography to create a world for him. Italian-born Clara, who lives in San Francisco’s artistic circles before moving to Mexico in the 1920s, is undone by her intertwining passions for art, men and politics. In contrast, wealthy N.Y. socialite Ellen, raised to separate love from sex, avoids intimacy in life or photography until she becomes a photojournalist in World War II. After escaping 1930s Germany, Jewish photographer and lesbian/bohemian Charlotte marries for security and moves to Argentina, but her true love remains another woman. The contradictory pull between romantic love and family becomes more complicated when her career takes off. Miri feels trapped in post-WWII domesticity until she starts photographing Manhattan from her apartment window, and the tension of domestic love energizes her creativity. Cymbeline has already emerged as the novel’s uniting presence by the time she visits Miri’s exhibit. 1970s radical feminist Jessie interviews Cymbeline, picking up some hard-won advice. Coming full circle in 1980 is domestic free-spirit Jenny, whose photography of her children is labeled pornographic.

Although overly schematic, Otto makes these eight women and the differing lenses through which they view the 20th century hard to forget.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8269-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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