‘Brown Girls,’ a Daring Debut That Follows Its Characters Through Life and Beyond

Andreades follows her cohort into their careers, their marriages, affairs and divorces, and into old age. Along the way a lot of subjects are turned over for examination. Like a DJ, the author picks up the needle and puts it back down in unexpected places.

In “Brown Girls,” nostalgia is complicated. The women go back to Queens to visit, and a landslide of memories rush in: “This is where I chased an ice cream truck for five freaking blocks, says Edel”; “Lisa confesses, I ran away from my mom on a day like this”; “At this intersection, says Dee, I saw a girl get run over by a bus.”

For a lot of them, for a thousand psycho-sociological reasons, going home is impossible.

Andreades’s writing has economy and freshness. “Brown Girls” reads as much like poetry as it does like a novel, which is another way of saying: Don’t arrive here expecting a good deal of plot.

The chapters are short, ramekin-size. The novel always seems to be stopping and starting over, the way Janet Malcolm did in “Forty-One False Starts,” her New Yorker profile of the painter David Salle.

This quality can relieve Andreades of doing the hard work of exploring character, or ideas, in real depth.

Some of these brown girls marry white boys, and they’re conflicted about it. In bars, later in life, they stare at brown men. “Write our numbers on napkins. Leave, trembling.”

Virginia Woolf referred to death as “the one experience I shall never describe.” Andreades follows her characters right into the afterlife. We slide down behind them, as if on a chute.

Death! It tastes like feces, she writes, and also like “water purified by gravel in the Loire.” It’s somehow in keeping with this fearless novel that tasting notes are provided.

As Russians Steal Ukraine’s Art, They Attack Its Identity, Too

KHERSON, Ukraine — One morning in late October, Russian forces blocked off a street in downtown Kherson and surrounded a graceful old building with dozens of soldiers. Five large trucks pulled up. So did a line of military vehicles, ferrying Russian agents who filed in through several doors. It was a carefully planned, highly organized, […]

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Turning Trash Into Poetry

PARIS — Compared with the junk she’s found in other cities, “Parisian trash is sturdy,” Ser Serpas said. She speaks from experience — at 27, the itinerant artist and poet is admired in European and North American art circles for precariously poised arrangements of urban discards found near the venues where they’re shown. They become […]

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Book Review: ‘Forbidden Notebook,’ by Alba de Céspedes

By the 1950s, she was known throughout Italy. For years she wrote a popular advice column, tackling questions about marriage, infidelity and love with meditations on art and philosophy. These columns steered readers toward a modern, more secular morality, one that stressed women’s equality. Her private life was the stuff of rumors — according to […]

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