With quiet understatement, Bronsky offers us a glimpse of life in the radioactive abyss.

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BABA DUNJA'S LAST LOVE

A quiet novel about a woman who returns home after some time away—not unusual in itself, perhaps, but it is when the home she returns to is in Chernobyl.

As one might expect, life is both quiet and grim in Chernobyl (or Tschernowo, as it's referred to by the Russian narrator, who's also the title character). Baba Dunja is recognized as one of the pioneers of the region, for she is one of only two current residents who lived in Chernobyl “before the reactor” and has returned to make some kind of life for herself, though it’s a grim one. Not even half the houses are inhabited on the main road, and everyone not from the region—primarily those residents of the nearest town, Malyschi—shuns everyone from Chernobyl, fearing they’ll be contaminated by radiation. She and her neighbors occupy themselves with getting food and just getting through the day. Baba Dunja has a daughter, Irina, a medical doctor in Germany, as well as a granddaughter whom she has never met. Mother and daughter have a desultory correspondence, and Irina very much wants Baba Dunja to leave the “death zone.” And while Baba Dunja has never met her granddaughter, she has a picture and occasional glimpses of her life through Irina’s letters. By the end of the story we learn that the image of her family Baba Dunja has been encouraged to create is out of kilter with reality. The central event in the narrative is the death of a man who comes to Chernobyl with his healthy daughter to get revenge on his wife—and the townspeople, especially Baba Dunja, recognize how foolish it is to undertake such a venture with such a motivation.

With quiet understatement, Bronsky offers us a glimpse of life in the radioactive abyss.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60945-333-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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