Although its suspense level could be higher, this novel satisfies with its wonderfully complex and vivid setting.


An American graduate student in India teams up with an intelligence agent and others to prevent a crisis that could spark bloody chaos.

When Jill Rothchild, an American student of ethnography, arrives in India, her biggest problem is finding subjects to interview for her thesis on the Narikuravas, an ethnic group similar to the Roma, or Gypsies. Her father’s friend professor N.V. Venkataraman Rao, or Venkie for short, helps her get started and provides a place to stay. They’ve barely begun when their house is bombed, and Venkie reveals the truth: He’s a retired secret agent for the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s equivalent to the CIA. His old friend and rival in Pakistan—called “Kebab” for his sharp ways—has turned terrorist. Kebab has summoned Venkie out of retirement, taunting him to complete one last mission, to prevent Kebab from unleashing a high-tech attack that could destabilize multiple governments. Jill, Venkie and two Narikuravas (a folk medicine man and his niece) have 40 days and nights to zigzag across India and Pakistan, dodging paid thugs and other dangers, to reach Kebab’s hideaway in time. Jackson (Diving for Carlos, 2011, etc.) has previously written several books about South Indian culture and vividly evokes the beautiful, varied confusion that is India. The characters’ long and meandering journey covers a lot of ground, from teeming cities to quiet villages, and involves encounters with colorful characters, including a Bandit Queen, a Bollywood star and a famous guru. Jill’s narrative voice is lively, engaging and thoughtful, and the novel includes many well-observed details, such as the tea-stall keepers during monsoon season who “fashion little boats from bottle caps, with oil and a lit wick, launching the little glowing crafts to go exploring currents down the street, just for the sweet and simple fun of watching the miniature boats float out of sight.” However, one plot device, that keeps giving away the group’s presence to Kebab’s thugs, is immediately obvious to readers but not to the protagonists; their failure to connect the dots may cause some readers to doubt their intelligence.

Although its suspense level could be higher, this novel satisfies with its wonderfully complex and vivid setting.

Pub Date: April 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-8129119445

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Rupa & Co.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2013

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


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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