Brilliantly observed first novel about the fascination that brings Americans and Japanese together—and the xenophobia that drives them apart. Toshi, from the majestic northern island of Hokkaido, was nine when his soon-to-be-separated mother took him to see Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. From then on, he was entranced by foreigners—so open and free compared to his own repressed, unhappy family and nation. Brown exuberantly describes Toshi's Candidelike progress in hyperactive, modern-day Tokyo—where pet dogs can be rented (an hour a day per week), the Minister of Agriculture commits ritual suicide on TV, and blimps circle overhead, advertising for a bride for the Crown Prince. When he reaches 23, Toshi has become a boy- toy, seduced by American girls and adored by his best friend, gay advertising executive Paul; and his job as staff artist for a popular comic book, Chocolate Girl, allows him to keep life at a surreal distance. His passivity, however, is increasingly challenged after an affair with his kinky English teacher, Jane, turns scary and violent, his father drops dead coming to visit him, and an earthquake devastates Hokkaido. Against a backdrop of Japan turning furiously anti-American under the specter of US imports, these shocks refocus Toshi on the meaning of his parents' separation. As his father's noodle shop is bulldozed, Toshi's mother reveals that she's actually Korean, kidnapped during the war and gang-raped for weeks by Japanese soldiers and factory workers. Toshi's father was a soldier who came to rape her, then stayed to rescue and marry her, even though she could not love him. After so much surreal comedy, this reversal sweeps through the novel like a tsunami, illuminating the war guilt that lies under Japan's frantic embrace of smiley-face consumerism. In a knowingly sentimental close, Toshi finds love with the right American. And Brown, having handled tragedy, satire, and fine descriptions of rural Japan, doesn't flinch from his final hurdle- -depicting happiness. An impressive debut. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-671-52671-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995

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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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