Both celebration and condemnation of war, this Iliad manages to speak to yet another generation that needs desperately to...

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AN ILIAD

One of the greatest stories of all time is briskly retold in the award-winning Italian author’s fifth novel (Without Blood, 2004, etc.).

In two author’s notes, Baricco identifies his version of Homer’s eponymous epic poem as the fruit of a recently staged public reading, and his realization that the poem “as it has come down to us was unreadable.” Well, yes and no. Still, there’s much to be said for Baricco’s skillful distillation of Homer into a trim narrative shorn of the gods’ machinations and focused on the motivations of various Achaean invaders (headstrong King Agamemnon, Machiavellian strategist Odysseus, vainglorious hero Achilles) and their Trojan counterparts (aged King Priam, his noble and intrepid son Hector and the duplicitous Paris—whose “theft” of the Achaean Menelaus’s beautiful wife Helen ignited the long-enduring conflict). The story is told piecemeal, as a kind of oral history spoken (from beyond the grave) by the combatants, their sorrowing women and such peripheral characters as the Nurse who describes Hector’s dismissal of his wife Andromache’s prophetic fears, “The River,” which relates the single combat between Achilles and the Trojan warrior Aeneas that bloodied its waters and the bard Demodocus, who tells as aftermath the story of the Trojan horse and the ultimate destruction of Troy. Obviously, something is lost in omitting the gods’ intercessions, which vary the content and pace of Homer’s immortal original, making it far more than a catalogue of battlefield exploits. But Baricco describes such actions superbly, and creates a persuasive atmosphere of character-driven impending doom. And Goldstein’s vivid translation conjures some spectacular visual effects (e.g., “horses . . . ran wild, pulling empty chariots and mourning their drivers, who now lay on the ground, more loved by the vultures than by their wives”).

Both celebration and condemnation of war, this Iliad manages to speak to yet another generation that needs desperately to hear its message.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-307-26355-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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