OBABAKOAK

Distinctive, subtle storytelling in a wide-ranging yet curiously cohesive novel, awarded the Spanish National Prize for Literature, from Basque writer Atxaga. Effectively combining the style and nuances of an oral tradition with themes exotic and surreal, Atxaga makes use of a variety of settings—from the streets of Hamburg to the jungles of the Upper Amazon, as well as the Basque and Spanish countryside—to create his imaginary land of Obaba. In a series of self-contained chapters, tales of people in varying degrees of psychological distress unfold—such as that of a troubled boy of 14 who has a vision of an enticing young woman in Hamburg, with whom he begins an intense if brief correspondence only to learn decades later that his father was really the one answering his letters, as a way of giving him guidance. Substantially more attention is given to the unfortunate narrator of the final section of the story, whose obsession with the possibility that a small green lizard could enter the human brain through the ear and cause idiocy, and whose belief that an eccentric schoolmate with a passion for lizards had intentionally reduced another boy to a simpleton by this means years before, ultimately lead him to suffer the same sad fate. Dark suggestions of suicide and sinister occurrences across centuries mingle with wry, humorous moments and ironic discussions of literary theory and the value of plagiarism, yielding a rich concoction of ideas and images. The work of an original voice and a considerable talent: a debut that's as delightful as it is disturbing, and full of surprises.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-42404-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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