SHIPWRECKS

The first English translation of a veteran Japanese writer who is president of his country's writers' union and the author of 20 novels. This 1982 work, set in a coastal village in medieval Japan, recounts the hurried journey toward manhood taken by its protagonist, nine-year-old Isaku. In their impoverished village close by the sea, Isaku's family and neighbors carry on a long- accepted tradition: They distill salt from sea water to sell to other villages—and they live in the hope that the flames beneath the boiling cauldrons placed near the shore will lure passing ships onto the nearby rocks, thereafter to be looted and plundered. ``O- fune-sama'' (their term for this illicit bounty) occurs only infrequently until one winter when, after an unexpectedly short interval, a mysterious ship is found drifting near shore, all of its dead passengers dressed in red clothing and disfigured by red spots on their bodies. The villagers strip them of their garments and possessions—and retribution proves as swift as it is terrible. This disturbing fable resonates with mystery, its events seen through the puzzled eyes of young Isaku, who is just beginning to intuit the imperatives of sexuality and to shoulder his burden as the man of his family, since his father, who has sold himself into indentured servitude in a distant village, is usually absent. The novel's structure works beautifully: Its first two thirds, virtually plotless, offer a vivid portrait of Isaku's fascination with local folkways and superstitions; thereafter, things happen with momentous inevitability, climaxing when those who have been punished most grievously for the community's sins must suffer the additional ordeal of banishment. Isaku's father returns home to a family changed beyond anything he can imagine. A seamless interweaving of description, characterization, and narrative, and an enduringly powerful image of a vanished time and place. More, please, of Yoshimura.

Pub Date: June 7, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100194-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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