Solzhenitsyn writes in the great Russian tradition of celebrating the calamity of being born a Russian. No literature seems to have more harrowing things to say about its country, yet none turns towards its earth, its history, its people with such compassion or rude pride. Dostoevsky may have thought Russia a barbarian's paradise, but he spent his life "bearing witness" to her destiny, her spirit. This, of course, is the essence of Russian realism, and also of Solzhenitsyn's art. What has happened to him as a prisoner of the state, and as an individual Russian, he makes known, whether as graphic confession (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) or as symbolic melodrama (The First Circle). In these tales and novellas and prose poems his heroes are everyday martyrs who speak of renewal. They ask, as did so often Tolstoy's characters, what a man must do to be saved; they honor human endurance or mourn the loss. It is a subject peculiarly poignant to the Soviet scene where the private life is programmatically uncultivated and the sprawling public replacement seems so often bare, mean, and corrupt. "An Incident at Krechetovka Station" captures the terrors of the war years in the fleeting friendship of a persecuted actor and a young officer forced to give him away. "Matryona's House" depicts the humble life-enriching character of a peasant woman and her disaffiliated intellectual lodger; it has a wondrous melancholy suffused with a festive strain — as good as anything in Turgenev. Irony, of course, is everywhere, but Solzhenitsyn does not have the nervy gloom of his compatriot Amalrik who pictures a future of utter chaos and cultural despair. His new collection, with its stoical, plain, inward beauty, movingly reminds us that Solzhenitsyn seems never to have written a line that was not somehow tinged with hope.

Pub Date: July 19, 1971

ISBN: 0374511160

Page Count: 267

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1971

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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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