At work (I work at Penguin Random House, specifically for DK), my colleagues in the sales department starting talking about this book, about how it spoke to them, it moved them, and how sad it was--and my curiosity was peaked.
It was a substantial novel, the hardcover coming in just over 700 pages. I started reading it, but due to my habit of picking up more than one book at the same time, it sat for a while.
Back in May of 2015, I got the opportunity to meet the author as she was in the Random House midtown office, where a small group of us got the chance to discuss the novel with the author and her editor.
They spoke like an old married couple, arguing about everything from the cover choice, which Hanya advocated for, even if it was a topic of strong opposing points of view. It is an photo by photographer Peter Hujar, entitled The Orgasmic Man, and the close-up, the squinting of pleasure or is it pain? It is definitely a conversation starter.
When I had the chance to talk with the author briefly as she signed a copy for me, I told her how excited I was to read it, and mentioned our enthusiasm across the sales department. She was gracious, and echoed the sentiment on the title page, "Dear Jay, Thank you so much for your support. I so appreciate it," along with her signature. She was very inspiring. Also, I follow her on instagram where she posts great photos with accompanying text.
But it wound up taking a train ride down to Baltimore earlier this month that allowed me the time to finally sit with the novel and plow through it and get emotionally attached in the process.
When a colleague recently asked me why, why would I want to read something so sad I tried to explain, paraphrasing here. Sometimes the journey is something you can't turn away from. As sad as it can be, you get attached to the characters, in this case: JB, Malcolm, Willem and of course, Jude. You follow the four friends over the years and want to see them get through it, want to see how it all turns out.
This was a tough one, but well worth the trip and investment, the characters will stay with me for some time.