Feather light but oddly compelling.


French playwright and novelist Reza, best known in America for her 2009 Tony Award–winning play, God of Carnage, offers 20 scenes to show the interlocking lives of various Parisian spouses, lovers, parents, children and friends.

Although the title derives from a Borges poem, the intellectual pretentions do not weigh as heavily as they might; the scenes are brief, with limited punctuation and no paragraphing—as if to emphasize the evanescence and rapidly changing nature of relationships. No one is exactly the central protagonist here, but the opening belongs to the most frequently seen characters, Robert and Odile Toscano, whose push-pull of irritation and attraction during an argument over car keys represents the universal state of marriage. In a later scene, Robert grouses after the couple attends a party hosted by Remi, a lawyer who turns out to be Odile’s lover. Remi is acquainted with professional gambler Yorgos, whose friend Raoul played cards with Odile’s father, Ernest Blot, to help him recover from depression after a coronary bypass. Ernest’s sister, Marguerite, a Spanish professor, may be hopelessly in love with a colleague, but she seems like a strong woman compared to Ernest’s wife, Jeannette, when they clothes shop together after Jeannette’s 70th birthday party. And then there are Robert’s friends Luc and Lionel, who tells the other two the secret reason he and his wife, Pascaline, seem so devoted: Their son, Jacob, is in a mental hospital because he believes he's Céline Dion. Raoul’s wife, Hélène, runs into Igor, Jacob's psychiatrist, with whom she has an erotic history. And so the relationships unspool and reknot scene after scene to include a professionally caring, personally demented oncologist; unhappy mistresses; wives; mothers and children. The difficulty in keeping track of the names seems to be purposeful, a complex game of matching up characters in various patterns as lives sometimes crisscross, sometimes run parallel, until the Toscanos take center stage again in a funeral finale that brings everyone into new relief.

Feather light but oddly compelling.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-509515-692-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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

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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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