More Mauritius and less Bosnia might have rescued Anderson’s story from the doldrums.




Second-novelist Anderson (Hidden Latitudes, 1996) offers a languid tale about two naturalists on a tropical island guarding their restoration project from unknown saboteurs.

Fran and Christian are the sole inhabitants of tiny Egret Island, a nature reserve just off the coast of Mauritius. Fran’s mission, a reverse Darwinism (“the survival of the weakest”), is to restore the island to its pre-human state, remove all exotic creatures like monkeys and mongooses, and see that her beloved mourner-birds do not go the way of the dodo. Now middle-aged, Fran was a professor at Berkeley until her husband ended their marriage because she couldn’t give him children. Her Swiss assistant, Christian, is a burnt-out Red Cross official who quit after a brutal hitch in Bosnia, leaving behind his pregnant lover, Nermina, a Muslim. Fran’s former assistant, Satish, a Mauritian, died when his dinghy overturned. There are mysteries here. Was Satish’s death an accident? In what circumstances did Christian abandon Nermina? And who is releasing predators to attack the mourner-birds? Anderson, oh, so slowly drip-feeds us the answers. Christian won’t open up to lonely, bossy Fran about Bosnia but finds release on Mauritius with the lovely Asmita, a restaurant hostess, but ends his courtship abruptly when he realizes she has tricked him into a promise of marriage (too bad the key conversation is missing). When Christian is almost drowned by some locals (the saboteurs?), Fran nurses him back to health, they become, first, confidants, then lovers as Fran reveals that Satish had been her lover too and Christian talks about Nermina, who, he just learned, is still alive, so he must return to Europe. Only at end do we learn that the death of Satish and near-death of Christian were caused by youths working for a corrupt Mauritian businessman who wanted the island for himself; the explanation is feeble and half-hearted.

More Mauritius and less Bosnia might have rescued Anderson’s story from the doldrums.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-33199-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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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 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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