PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewDeftly paced and judiciously detailed, the tale makes hay with the conventions of the 19th-century novel. But that’s not all. With breathtaking audacity Yanagihara rewrites America, the Civil War having produced, in this account, not a united country but a conglomeration of territories ... Strikingly, [Yanagihara] ushers her characters offstage only to bring them back, in other eras and other guises, multiple times ... There are dozens of other such reincarnations, and they simultaneously bedazzle and befuddle. If in a Russian novel one struggles to keep track of who is related to whom, here we struggle to keep track of who has turned into whom, especially as Yanagihara masterfully repurposes themes, situations and motifs as well ... Limited and circumstantial as they may ultimately be, acts of love and goodness do leaven this book, which is finally as much concerned with the vulnerable as the inescapable ... In its evocation of eternal recurrence and the illusory nature of life, To Paradise recalls Buddhist ideas and so large a wisdom that it may seem absurdly worldly to critique the novel as a piece of craft. But 700-page books will sag in places, and this one is no exception. It loses steam in the Hawaii section and only fitfully regains momentum until its gripping end ... The dystopian future depicted in the final section is horrific indeed. But reading of the societal developments, we may yearn for the fineness of touch with which the novel opened. In place of Yanagihara’s trademark emotional probing, the last section confronts us with chunks of exposition ... This ambitious novel tackles major American questions and answers them in an original, engrossing way. It has a major feel. But it is finally in such minor moments that Yanagihara shows greatness.
MixedThe New RepublicIt’s touching. Still, it is unclear how we are to read Theo in particular. Most of what he says suggests that Powers wants us to believe in him and side with him ... It raises a host of questions (Can we call emotions acquired this way our own? Would a scientist father really not think through the risks?), but the issues in which Powers seems interested have more to do with the relationship between our broken selves and our broken world ... Might wholeness, courage, and empathy save creation? And could Powers have erected the whole creaky edifice that is this novel in order to air this idea? It does seem so ... Powers’s interest in Alyssa, Robbie, and Theo is not strictly limited to their thematic usefulness ... How I would have loved to see more of this sort of thing in the book. Or what about Theo’s ambivalence about Robbie’s condition? ... For all his brilliance, Powers can be sloppy in his use of language ... As for whether readers are persuaded that the urgency of this message justifies the instrumentality of its vehicle, I predict a split between those who do and don’t believe the novel must, above all, live ... If we feel something important about humans is glancingly captured there—something about grudging respect and all we can’t help but feel—we might well agree with Powers’s message but still not press this book upon our friends, finding it, ironically, not wild enough. If we believe, on the other hand, that the saving of the earth comes before all, including what Powers might see as the arrogant, individualistic, humanist product that is contemporary literature, we are likely to embrace Bewilderment whole hog—even to find this the most moving and inspiring of all Powers’s books.
PositiveThe New York TimesReminiscent of Ferrante, too, are Jin’s protagonist’s larger-than-life talent, drive and perversity. In her intelligence, vulnerability, volatility, desperation, narcissism and self-destructiveness, Su Lan — despite her voicelessness — is as complex a protagonist as any I can recall. She is also portrayed with exquisite irony ... I did wish Jin’s narrative had been better signposted. The oscillating viewpoints (including an early focus on the hospital nurse, who turns out to be less important than this implies) can be disorienting, especially when accompanied by unexplained shifts in time and place ... despite the novel’s structural flaws, Liya’s duel with her mother nonetheless shines.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThoroughly researched and ambitious in scope, Ko’s book ably depicts the many worlds Deming’s life encompasses...It is impossible not to root for a boy so foundationally unmoored by circumstance ... Yet rather than mine this richly unsettling territory, Ko contrives things such that not all Polly’s actions — including her effective abandonment of Deming — turn out to be her fault. Is hers a cost-free freedom? And why is her penchant for freedom made so much of, if it is without consequence? Where Deming’s story, too, eventually devolves into a conventional narrative of a young person learning to follow his bliss, it’s hard not to see this book as one that takes risks but then hedges its bets ... It is still heartening to see a novel put a human face on migration, and perhaps in future books, this budding novelist’s true promise will be realized. Meanwhile, Lisa Ko has taken the headlines and reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives.