DAYS OF AWE

An inert second novel from Cuban-born Chicago Tribune culture reporter Obejas (stories: We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?, 1994, etc.) strains to illuminate the history of her native land and its Jews before and after the Revolution.

Narrator Alejandra San José, whose family fled Cuba on the day of the Bay of Pigs, is part of the problem here. Humorless, self-absorbed, and long-winded—the defining moment of her father’s life is hinted at so often that the eventual revelations are neither surprising nor interesting—she turns what could be a sweeping tale of identity, exile, and loyalty into a turgid clash between faith and nationalism. Moving back and forth from the present to1897, when patriarch Itzak fought heroically in Cuba’s War of Independence against Spain, Alexandra describes her family’s struggle to practice Judaism and her own ambivalence about her faith and her homeland. Like many others, her ancestors converted to Christianity to avoid persecution, but never forgot their Jewish roots. After Itzak had Alejandra’s father Enrique circumcised, some of the family began openly acknowledging their faith, despite the increasing anti-Semitism of the 1920s and ’30s. Her parents now live in Chicago, where Enrique is an esteemed translator of literature, but she senses a mystery about him that transcends the sadness of exile. In 1987, Alejandra returns to Cuba as a translator for touring Americans, meets old relatives and family friends, and learns more about her past and her faith. On further visits her sense of Cuban and Jewish identity grows as she observes the changes in Cuba after the Berlin Wall falls and describes how her relatives adjust to power failures, wealthy tourists, and rationing. When Enrique dies, Alejandra takes his ashes back to Cuba—where she will finally learn his long-dark secret from a childhood friend.

Sincere but lifeless.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-43921-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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