A thoroughly confused tale whose inarticulate protagonist is the biggest, but by no means the only, source of frustration.

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EDDIE SIGNWRITER

Young lovers fall victim to the machinations of the middle-aged in this limp first novel from South African poet Schwartzman.

On a Monday morning in 1993, the hilly Ghanaian tourist resort of Aburi is in an uproar. One of the town’s most prominent citizens, upscale restaurant owner Nana Aforiwaa, has drowned in the river; her close friend John, headmaster of the local boarding school, is raving and in shock. Nana had been searching for her 16-year-old niece Celeste, gone missing with boyfriend Kwasi, a protégé of John. Nana, who raised Celeste, had with John’s approval encouraged the friendship between their young charges, turning a blind eye to the teenagers’ carrying-on in public. Was Nana a benevolent free spirit, or a lonely meddler with an unhealthy obsession? That’s one of many questions that goes unanswered here. Kwasi becomes the target for the townspeople’s indignation. He moves to Accra to live with his kindly uncle Festus, and puts his painting talents to good use as a signwriter. Celeste joins him. Their love is still intense, but shadowed by guilt over Nana’s death. Shy and awkward, Kwasi can only express himself through his painting. Eventually he bolts, joining the West African diaspora in Paris. Nana’s drowning was no accident, we learn; for the sake of Kwasi and Celeste, John had pushed her under. This does not ring true, and the revelation is handled clumsily. John comes clean to the town doctor, who passes the news on to Festus, who relays the confession to Kwasi in Paris at the very end. So Nana’s murder, which wrecked three lives, is sidelined for much of the narrative. The only flickers of excitement are provided by Schwartzman’s account of “the flesh machine,” the series of handlers who move Kwasi from Accra through Senegal to Paris.

A thoroughly confused tale whose inarticulate protagonist is the biggest, but by no means the only, source of frustration.

Pub Date: March 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37873-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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