The power of the author’s previous historical fiction came largely from a meticulous sense of historical detail missing in...

ALEXANDER & ALESTRIA

Beijing-born novelist and painter Shan Sa (Empress, 2006, etc.) imagines the life of Alexander the Great in terms of his impassioned love affair with an Amazon warrior queen.

Educated by Aristotle, Alexander wants to be a poet, but he follows in the footsteps of his father Philip of Macedonia. By the time Alexander rises to military preeminence, conquering Egypt and Babylon, he is the sun around which orbits a coterie of boyhood lovers/admirers. In this warrior society, romance and desire are reserved for other men while women are merely baby-makers. Alexander’s first love, his schoolmate Hephaestion, remains loyal even after Alexander takes Darius of Babylon’s former slave Bagoas as his new lover. Meanwhile on the Scythian steppes, the Amazons have evolved into a tribe of fierce women who live without men. One day Alexander finds himself in a one-on-one battle, unaware that his opponent is the Amazon queen Talestria. The two carry on their fight night and day until they recognize they are soul mates and decide to wed. After Alexander changes Talestria’s name to Alestria, her servant Tania is horrified that her queen chooses love over war while Bagoas goes wild with jealousy. Alexander finds himself torn by extreme passions, his thirst for conquest overcome by his love for Alestria and his desire to bear a child with her. Despite Tania’s efforts to keep Alestria sterile, she becomes pregnant. Tania is horrified as Alestria seems to wither away toward motherhood, but after the child is stillborn, Alestria demands that Alexander take her with him to the front. There Alexander suffers a fatal head wound but does not die immediately. Leaving behind a double in his place, he goes with Alestria to the Steppes, where she nurses him and where he has the chance to live without hatred.

The power of the author’s previous historical fiction came largely from a meticulous sense of historical detail missing in this artifice, which never comes to mythological or fictional life.

Pub Date: July 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-154354-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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