PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a book that luxuriates in the seedy spaces of late night ... this book too is driven by a serious historical purpose, showing us the micro-changes in the landscape of Harlem and the prospects of Black Americans in the North in the 1960s .. Whitehead’s sweet, sweaty, authoritative, densely peopled portrait of a Harlem in near perpetual summer is the most successful part of the book. Had I not known Whitehead was a talented shape-shifter, I — as an outsider to Harlem — would have believed he had only ever written about this setting ... Except for a couple of potted histories, Whitehead’s research in Harlem Shuffle feels richly integrated with the story; he knows the people of Harlem in the 1960s; and the people are just that: real people ... In the past, Whitehead has shown a deep interest in systems but not always in human psychology (a charge that has also been leveled at earlier systems novelists like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon). This book is a step forward. Ray Carney, the protagonist, is, in some ways, Whitehead’s most fully developed character ... The novel treats the hotel itself as a microcosm of Harlem, and each civilian caught in the heist is tagged with a supple biography. Had Whitehead ended the book after this fierce and funny section, it would stand as one of the few perfect novellas in American literature ... Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your taste — Whitehead keeps going; and the rest of the book yields mixed results ... this revenge goes perfectly, with few consequences for Carney — and the book loses energy as a result. Instead of forcing Carney’s self-image into crisis, Whitehead gives us less-than-original observations about how everyone’s a crook ... Happily, Whitehead rights the ship by the third episode, which focuses on another crime to which Carney is an unwilling accomplice, with potentially deadly repercussions for the people he loves. And the crime story, which had become inert, suddenly revs to life, reminding us that Whitehead, beneath all the shambling and high jinks, remains an American master.
PanThe New York Times Book Review... a cautionary tale of how a novelistic intelligence can sputter out in the grip of a many-tentacled conflict ... The trouble is that Hanif wants to have it both ways: to be an earnest elegist as well as a fiery caricaturist. Ultimately he succeeds at neither. The novel’s emotional world is as flat and parched as the desert in which Ellie crashes; the monologues inefficiently repeat information and action. Mostly, this is a failure of language and tone: Hanif never convincingly distinguishes his characters’ voices ... I was disappointed to see Hanif reaching for the easiest jokes ... He has found, in this novel, an ingenious way to bring an American and his so-called enemies face to face. But having effected this confrontation in the desert, he loses his nerve. Red Birds becomes another casualty of the forever wars.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...it is a relief to encounter the new book and find Roy the artist fully and brilliantly intact: prospering with stories and writing in gorgeous, supple prose ... Roy, in her nonfiction, has taken a sharp interest in Kashmir, and it is evident in this novel, which is blazing with details about the Indian government’s occupation and the Kashmiri people’s ensuing sorrow ... These sections of the book filled me with awe — not just as a reader, but as a novelist — for the sheer fidelity and beauty of detail ... The other part of the book, which concerns Anjum, gives Roy more trouble, but only in its political aspects ... Roy, who has witnessed a great deal of turmoil, is uniquely placed to emphasize the solidarities between movements. She wants to show us a genuine counterculture of protest. Nevertheless, I longed for fewer connections, fewer babies and more in-depth depictions of the psychologies of the movements. I wanted Roy to focus not on the big symbols, but once again on the small things.
Javier Marias, Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"It is in Marías’s portrayal of two completely different ways of being in the world — Eduardo’s vengeful and intellectual stance, as compared with Beatriz’s self-abnegating stoicism — that we see what a novelist can do best: relish opposing viewpoints and play them off against each other ... Unfortunately, Marías squanders most of his firepower by circling the mystery of Van Vechten’s crime and shaking it down for meaning ... Marías has a problem, which critics have seemed too reticent to discuss: that of lapsing into universal-sounding banalities, almost as a tic ... Melodrama can be an advantage for the modern novelist but it doesn’t always meld well with Marías’s bloviating prose and Shakespearean soliloquies ... it is when Marías gets to the true source of Beatriz’s pain that the novel, dormant for 400 pages, suddenly explodes.\