Popescu tries hard to give voice to the needs and wants of a girl from a marginalized community but falls short of his...

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NIMA

Journalist Popescu’s debut novel tells the story of a teenage girl from the Sherpa community coming-of-age in the Himalayas.

The novel begins two days before 17-year-old narrator Nima's wedding day, about three years after a tragedy befell her family, which includes her abusive father, compliant mother, and five younger sisters. When the groom-to-be, Norbu, seeks to alter an important detail of the arrangement, the prospect of the marriage becomes untenable, and Nima must flee. Few opportunities exist for married women in Nima’s community, let alone young, single ones, but a determined Nima commits to supporting herself the way her father once supported the family and Norbu would his, by trekking to Mount Everest’s base camp, initially disguised as a boy, and then as the girl she is. She encounters a trio of Westerners—Val, a reporter for the BBC, Val’s boyfriend, Ethan, and their photographer friend Daniel—that hires her as one of two guides. (Popescu has himself climbed partway up Everest as a reporter for the BBC.) Between the hostile terrain and even more hostile culture toward women and girls, the journey proves perilous. The novel is at its best when it’s grounded in Nima’s spiritual upbringing even though she herself doesn’t necessarily believe what her parents do. But too often, Nima is explaining her culture and the worldview that alienates her so deeply to the reader. The novel’s structure, language, and characters, most of which do not move beyond archetypes, do little to enrich the story. Nima faces many compelling challenges, but a series of hardships, even when rooted in intersecting oppressive circumstances, do not a novel make.

Popescu tries hard to give voice to the needs and wants of a girl from a marginalized community but falls short of his literary aspirations.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944700-85-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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