The second of German author's Timm's five novels to be translated into English (The Snake Tree, 1990) gleefully targets everything we love to hate about the 1980's—heartless greed, financial speculation, yuppie food faddists, overpriced doctors, artists with inflated reputations and bank accounts to match. Timm writes with a gusto and an abundance of earthy anecdote reminiscent of Saul Bellow in his vital youth. Like Bellow, he's in love with his hometown, the patrician-proletarian port city of Hamburg, and stuffs his book with street names, legends, weather, landscapes, and history. Peter Walter, a dreamer adrift in the overheated world of high-tech high finance, is on the lam from the law and his own conscience (embodied by a prissy meddling uncle) after having been found guilty of defrauding 69 customers in complex commodity speculations. We follow him from an upscale hideout in southern Spain to Brazil and on to Easter Island, an obsession ever since childhood, when said uncle told Walter that his missing father—a Swedish sailor—was there. While running, our picaresque hero/narrator tells his tale of upward mobile woe—from birth and poverty in Hamburg's red-light district to the moment of escape from jail. Flashbacks within flashbacks and some rather heavily drawn parallels between the cannibals of Easter Island and the dog-eat-dog world of high finance clog forward motion. But there's so much fun along the way it hardly matters. Walter's escapades as a window dresser fired for posing mannequins in obscene positions; as a fast-talking and empathetic insurance salesman; his business partner's escape from East Germany across the Baltic on a homemade surfboard, and a whole string of gritty populist reminiscences about the war years make lively reading. Witty asides, mini-lectures on the nature of capitalism, the failure of socialism, the fetishistic appeal of coin and paper money, and ``chaos ideology'' round out this comic, disabused fantasia on themes from das Kapital. Marx would have cracked a grudging smile.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8112-1254-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet