MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"The surgeon is a fascinating character with a compelling arc. If only Mr. Soyinka and his editors had taken the time to release his story from the crowd of characters and the maze of plot lines that surround it ... Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth—the title itself is a dark joke—reads like a compendium of everything that is wrong with modern-day Nigeria ... Though the work of a great writer, this is not a great book. Dr. Menka, a fully rounded character, shares scenes with characters who are hardly more than cardboard caricatures, and a queasy mix of bitterness, rage, and cynicism flavors the whole. The novel may have been a necessary purge for its author, but it would be a shame if readers formed their opinion of Nigeria from this work and not from Mr. Soyinka’s poems and plays, or from his funny and tender family memoirs Aké: The Years of Childhood and Ìsarà: A Voyage Around ‘Essay.’
MixedThe Wall Street JournalElegant and formally ingenious ... The book as a whole resists falling into a narrative or argument ... Finishing The Art of Solitude it’s easy to feel that one must have a Ph.D. in ancient languages, a strong stomach and the money and leisure to seek out stone towers in distant lands if one wants to be properly solitary. And even then, the results may not be worth the effort.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...a more flexible and forgiving approach to the subject of solitude. Rather than suggesting that the benefits of solitude come only with suffering and deep study, this book serves up encouragement to the would-be solitary and offers examples of the ways solitude can structure our lives ... [a] thoughtful exploration of how discovering that one is \'not the marrying kind\'—whether that means being gay or not—can be the path to the sort of career that Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry James or Eudora Welty enjoyed.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe new book benefits from the author’s recent experience as gardener in residence at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Ms. McDowell writes with authority about the conservatory (later demolished and then rebuilt) where Dickinson grew buttercups out of season and watered cape jasmine and heliotrope ... A visual treat as well as a literary one, this book is illustrated with 19th-century maps, engravings, herbarium pages, seed catalogs, color photos of Amherst, full-page sidebars on tinted paper, and dozens of Dickinson’s poems printed in dark green ink. It is enriched by the work of three New England botanical artists whose lives overlapped Dickinson’s ... Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life will be deeply satisfying for gardeners and garden lovers, connoisseurs of botanical illustration, and those who seek a deeper understanding of the life and work of Emily Dickinson.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila, trans. by Roland Glasser
PositiveQuarterly ConversationTram 83 may not be a novel in the usual sense—it is more of a francophone triumph of style over substance—but it is a welcome voice from that quarter, and a promise of lively works to come ... Structured more around refrains than it is around plot, Tram 83 is as much a musical work as it is a fictional one. The most frequent refrain is \'Do you have the time?,\' the come-on repeated by the baby-chicks, single-mamas, and other carefully delineated species of hookerdom who pass their days and nights at Tram 83 ... Like the International Zone of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Tram 83 takes place in a special enclave—in its country but not of it, subject to its own rules, breathing its own atmosphere ... Tram 83 is not exactly a deep novel, but it carries itself with exuberance and style.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalStay With Me is told in chapters that alternate between Yejide’s and Akin’s points of view. Unlike so many first-time novelists, Ms. Adebayo shows empathy with all her characters, no matter how selfish or wrongheaded they may sometimes be. Ms. Adebayo excels at conveying Yejide’s turbulent, and defiant, emotional life ... The book has a headlong momentum that keeps us turning the pages, but the strain of stage-managing all the secrets, betrayals, and misunderstandings that drive the plot sometimes shows. When the last page is turned and we think back over what has happened, plot holes that escaped us in this flurry of activity become apparent ... When Ms. Adebayo takes a moment to breathe, her characters express themselves with beautiful clarity...Moments like this, even more than the author’s gift for plot, are the reason to look forward to more work from Ayobami Adebayo.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... excellent ... The life story Marable presents is essentially the same as the one that Malcolm and Haley told ... What, then, does this biography offer that is unavailable from the Autobiography? Quite a lot, as it turns out. It draws on interviews with friends, colleagues, and family members to offer a variety of viewpoints on the man and his work. It details the social and political context in which Malcolm lived, shedding light on the extraordinary power of the Ku Klux Klan during Malcolm’s childhood, describing the quasi-Islamic organizations that preceded the Nation of Islam, and explaining the beliefs and inner workings of the Nation and of the two organizations that Malcolm founded toward the end of his short life: the Islamic group Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the pan-African Organization for Afro-American Unity ... Marable tells the story of Malcolm’s assassination and its aftermath in a way that Malcolm himself obviously could not.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"... Mr. Kaag deftly weaves his philosophical concerns with the small and large crises of daily life ... As narrator of his own story, Mr. Kaag is not as likable in Hiking With Nietzsche as he was in American Philosophy. He is frequently angry, self-absorbed, compulsive and perfectionist. But his honesty is bracing...\
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalReading Broadway may give you the sensation I felt at the notorious Bodies exhibition, seeing the human form preserved and sliced lengthwise into inch-thick sections: a fresh, strange but mystifying view of the whole. Odd events and colorful characters are seen as Broadway intersects their course, but we don’t usually get the whole story. Mr. Leadon, whose previous book was a guide to New York City architecture, pays special attention to Broadway’s buildings ... Mr. Leadon also has a keen sense of what life was like at street level ... Mr. Leadon has a gift for capsule biography, especially of the larger-than-life types who gravitate to Broadway ... Inevitably, much is left out of this book ... this history simply bypasses the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem jazz scene ... Broadway, fascinating as it can be, is the public face of New York City, commercial, gaudy, violent and touristy by turns. The real life of the city is in its neighborhoods, and Broadway—whatever else it is—is no neighborhood.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIf Niru’s struggle with family, friends and sexuality makes Speak No Evil sound like a YA novel, then perhaps it is ... The language is clean and direct enough to be read by young people, and the sexual scenes not overly explicit. But the author brings an adult sensibility to his subject ... Though it takes place in seemingly safe D.C. rather than a war-torn African nation, Speak No Evil is a more ambitious and riskier novel [than Beasts of No Nation], with a deeper understanding of its characters’ conflicted hearts. Mr. Iweala’s novel weaves together sexual, religious and political strands as it builds to a devastating climax.
Marcel Proust, Trans. by Lydia Davis
RaveThe Wall Street JournalProust’s letters to the Williamses, recently discovered in a Paris archive, span the decade from 1908 to 1918. These 26 items make a delightful addendum to the four-volume Selected Letters. What makes this small volume worth having, however, is the bookmaking, including the textured endpapers and facsimiles of letters in which the lines of loose and airy handwriting sometimes droop and run off the page … [Lydia Davis] offers insights from her experience translating Swann’s Way and a remembered glimpse of what remained of Proust’s bedroom some years ago.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalStay With Me is told in chapters that alternate between Yejide’s and Akin’s points of view. Unlike so many first-time novelists, Ms. Adebayo shows empathy with all her characters, no matter how selfish or wrongheaded they may sometimes be. Ms. Adebayo excels at conveying Yejide’s turbulent, and defiant, emotional life ... The personalities and motivations of Ms. Adebayo’s characters are believable, though their physical presences are barely sketched in...The same is true of the cities and landscapes through which the author’s people move. There is little sense of what it is like to climb the Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles, or why the city of Jos is considered beautiful. The book has a headlong momentum that keeps us turning the pages, but the strain of stage-managing all the secrets, betrayals, and misunderstandings that drive the plot sometimes shows. When the last page is turned and we think back over what has happened, plot holes that escaped us in this flurry of activity become apparent ... When Ms. Adebayo takes a moment to breathe, her characters express themselves with beautiful clarity.