Think of the gifted Hemon as a kinder and gentler—and infinitely funnier—Jerzy Kosinski. A wry, touching chronicle of the...

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NOWHERE MAN

An unusual structure, along with a striking pictorial and metaphoric imagination, offers distinctive literary pleasures in this genuinely original first novel by the Bosnian-American author (stories: The Question of Bruno, 2000).

In the terrific opening chapter, the unidentified narrator recognizes the title character as Jozef Pronek (also the protagonist of a novella in Bruno), while the latter (a countryman) is interviewing for a job as an ESL teacher in Chicago. Thereafter, sequences presented from various points of view tell the story of Jozef’s upbringing in Sarajevo: his infancy and “toddlerhood,” gradually more successful sexual fantasies and fumblings, participation in a Beatles-inspired rock band, his “poetry-writing-period” and adult education. Hemon keeps deftly shifting the ground beneath the reader’s feet. When Jozef goes to study “general literature” in Kiev (prior to and during the breakup of the Soviet Union), his scholarly Russian-American roommate gradually confesses to himself (and us) his love for the exuberantly extroverted Jozef. A letter from a former band- and soul-mate who remains in Sarajevo during the violent 1990s follows, as do more elaborate accounts of Jozef’s work as a lab technician, then a canvasser for Greenpeace, and his marriage to a woman whose love for him (and his for her) cannot vanquish the loneliness and paranoia that will make Jozef forever (as the Beatles put it) “a nowhere man.” This vivid tragicomedy of alienation and assimilation is further enlivened by the freshness of Hemon’s figurative language—notably his habit of scribing human qualities to nonhuman or inanimate objects (“buses . . . sucking in passengers through the front doors”; a “camera clicking . . . like a hiccupping clock”).

Think of the gifted Hemon as a kinder and gentler—and infinitely funnier—Jerzy Kosinski. A wry, touching chronicle of the misadventures of a stranger in several strange lands. Don’t miss it.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-49924-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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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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