Not Makine’s best; still, a worthy lyrical addition to his Proustian tapestry depicting a vanished country’s deeply...

REQUIEM FOR A LOST EMPIRE

The legacy of a century of geopolitical conflict is analyzed with a tad too much discursive insistence in this otherwise resonant, richly plotted, and quite moving fifth novel from the Russian-born (French-language) author (Dreams of My Russian Summers, 1997, etc.).

The narrator, whose identity is (appropriately) at first concealed from us, addresses a likewise unidentified woman as he describes various events in his family’s past—returning repeatedly to the image of “a child hidden in the mountains of the Caucasus” and being carried away from danger by a white-haired woman. As his narrative loops forward and backward in time, we learn that the narrator had been a battlefield doctor treating casualties in Afghanistan and other “small wars,” and subsequently was employed to monitor the activities of freelance arms dealers—presumably as a KGB agent during the Soviet Union’s chaotic final months. The parallel (earlier) story that emerges from his exchanges, with the aforementioned confidante, of “long underground passages of our remembered past” builds an even more graphic and gripping picture of a family involved in several generations’ political and military struggles: from an independent villager’s resistance to Red Army tyranny in the 1920s to his son’s hallucinatory years of service on WWII battlefields to the narrator’s climactic pursuit (related in convincing espionage-thriller fashion) of the double agent he blames for the death of the woman he had loved. The story’s meditative romantic tone and fragmented structure make comparisons with Ondaatje’s The English Patient inevitable. But Makine’s is a lesser work: a lament for the carnage spawned by nationalistic frenzy and sheer human folly that’s too often explicitly preachy, and elevated by spectacularly suggestive images (a starving, riderless horse tethered to a tree; “the eyes of a woman, large and sorrowful . . . [captured in] a fresco blackened by fire”).

Not Makine’s best; still, a worthy lyrical addition to his Proustian tapestry depicting a vanished country’s deeply conflicted past and present.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-571-X

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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