Whatever political freight Al Aswany intends, he remains a charming, earthy, resourceful storyteller—albeit with a weakness...

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THE AUTOMOBILE CLUB OF EGYPT

In post–World War II Cairo, one family offers a lens on royal corruption, the British occupation, and the economic struggles of urban Egyptians in this rich political fable.

As in his debut, The Yacoubian Building, the bestselling Egyptian novelist and commentator (Friendly Fire, 2009, etc.) intertwines many lives caught up in history, in this case the eve of his country’s 1952 revolution. The once-wealthy patriarch of the Gaafar family suddenly dies after being beaten while working a menial job at the exclusive Cairo club of the title, where Egyptians are servants and only Europeans and royalty are members. Two of his three sons then get jobs at the club to support their mother and sister but also pursue secret activities. The studious Kamel, who gives Arabic lessons to the rebellious daughter of the club’s British managing director, is drawn into a group of radicals seeking to end the occupation. The oafish Mahmud performs as a gigolo servicing wealthy elderly women. Their sister reluctantly abandons her university studies to marry a man who will help the third brother in his business pursuits. Two characters embody the corruption and abuses targeted by the 1952 uprising that overthrew the king and helped oust the British. James Wright, the club director, is almost a caricature of obtuse colonial snobbery. He connives with the king’s chamberlain, Alku, who rules over the servants of the club through humiliation and beatings. The king himself is an overweight, gambling womanizer whose hankerings put Wright in an ugly quandary close to home. Coming out so soon after the 2011 revolution, the novel at its simplest level may serve to remind Egyptians and others involved in the Arab Spring of some of the historical reasons so many pursued democracy and how elusive it remains.

Whatever political freight Al Aswany intends, he remains a charming, earthy, resourceful storyteller—albeit with a weakness for cliffhangers—who might seduce even readers closer to Times Square than to Tahrir Square.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-95721-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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