THE IRON TRACKS

A compulsive series of journeys across the map of postwar Europe absorbs the narrator and protagonist of Israeli writer Appelfeld's haunting 11th novel (Unto the Soul, 1994, etc.)—an elegy, as are all its predecessors, for the Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Two of their number were the parents of Erwin Siegelbaum, a rootless survivor who ``lives,'' 40 years afterward, only on trains, traveling each year along a ``route'' that begins at the station where he and fellow prisoners were abandoned by their Nazi captors just prior to their liberation—and ending, in Erwin's imagination, only when he will at last discover, and execute, the German officer who murdered his family. It's a striking conception, and Appelfeld develops from it a surprisingly dramatic, engrossing novel, given its absence of a conventional plot. We learn that his narrator survived after the war as a smuggler, and in later years ekes out a living buying and reselling ``Jewish antiquities, manuscripts, books . . . everything that was buried for years in cellars and attics.'' Oddly muted descriptions of the people he meets during his ``travels'' and comes to know over the years (a rabbi who faithfully tends a long-abandoned synagogue, an elderly spinster who mourns the passing of her beloved cow) mingle with complex memories of Erwin's father (a Jewish Communist Part activist who spent the war years ``underground'') and mother (herself a deeply engaged rebel, later estranged from her husband). A further dimension is added by the narrator's own moral uncertainty (unlike other Jews, he desires not a home in the Promised Land, but revenge) and wavering purpose: He wonders whether he can kill, right up to the moment when he confronts his elderly prey. One reads Appelfeld not for plot or characterization, but for the intriguing variations he works on his single obsessive theme. This unsparing portrayal of a modern Wandering Jew is one of his most challenging and troubling fictions. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 1998

ISBN: 0-8052-4158-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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