Introspection takes precedence over action, and even characterization in this sluggish 1994 novel by the celebrated Spanish author of Obabakoak (translation 1993). The focal character here is ``Carlos'' (an alias), who is part owner of and also the baker at a hotel in Barcelona that hosts the visiting Polish soccer team during the 1982 World Cup games. A former member of the Basque Independence Movement (now ``just an occasional collaborator, a retired activist'') who has killed and been imprisoned for his beliefs, Carlos nevertheless finds it impossible to either fully embrace or totally discard his old allegiances. Two revolutionaries, a man and a woman, sought for a bombing in which a child was killed, are hidden in the cellar beneath his bakery. As Carlos deflects the suspicions of former comrades and assorted friends, his mind becomes an arena where radical theories contend with his exhausted diffidence, and where Carlos ``hears voices'' haranguing him: those of his brother Kropotky (nicknamed for the Russian revolutionary), long consigned to a psychiatric hospital; of his old comrade and mentor Sabino; and of the ``bad'' part of his conscience—the most amusing of the three—that the embattled Carlos labels ``the Rat.'' These voices are juxtaposed against a series of conversations in which the same theoretical points are made and remade (people keep quoting Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai), and a flimsy plot that features a lot of surreptitious surveillance but never manages to generate significant suspense. It's only too apparent that Carlos will not escape his past, and that the decisive action he finally steels himself to take will have disastrous unexpected consequences. Not do we care. He isn't a character; he's a collection of sociopolitical postures. The only one of Atxaga's figures who even briefly claims our sympathies is Danuta Wyca, an interpreter for the Polish athletes who, though in her 60s, is a potent intellectual and sexual presence. The Lone Man won the 1994 Spanish Critics' Prize. Why?

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 1997

ISBN: 1-86046-135-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1997

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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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