Fresh, graceful stories create a palpable world.



A feminist Tamil writer explores the dreams and challenges of women’s lives.

Ambai (A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge, 2016, etc.), the pseudonym used by researcher and educator Dr. C.S. Lakshmi for her fiction, evokes in sensuous, vibrant prose the colors, flavors, and sounds of Indian life in a collection of 21 stories translated by Holmström. The clash between tradition and modernity, the embrace of family and the desire for independence, the lure of transgression and of nostalgia, and the fraught meaning of freedom: These recur as themes in many stories that examine a woman’s struggle to define her identity in changing times. In “Wheelchair,” for example, Hitha is frustrated in her relationship with a self-proclaimed political revolutionary. “There is no difference whatsoever between a revolutionary and any other man when it comes to treading upon women,” Hitha asserts. She is looking for love; he tells her that love is a bourgeois disease. She listens to love songs; he criticizes them as “sentimental nonsense.” She wants to be cherished and, at the same time, is seduced by the idea of freedom. In the charming tale “Parasakti and Others in a Plastic Box,” a woman living in America, devastated by her recent divorce, is visited by her mother, who carries with her several miniature idols in a plastic box. Cooking traditional dishes, singing Tamil songs, and befriending neighbors, she exudes warmth and solace for the daughter who feels disconnected from her past. For some women, journeys—meaningful, necessary, planned, or spontaneous—end in epiphany; others find contentment at home. The title story, for example, takes place in a kitchen that, Ambai stresses, “was not a place; it was essentially a set of beliefs” propagated by women who sit in the shadows, their heads covered, kneading dough or stirring fragrant spices into dal. Yet Ambai upends the image of oppression: The women who make food appear “as from a magic carpet” reign in their kingdom of the kitchen, where they shape their families’ lives.

Fresh, graceful stories create a palpable world.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939810-44-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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