Chaudhuri’s prose is unfailingly eloquent, but this prim novel’s virtually plotless restraint repeatedly reduces drama to...



A subtly detailed picture of life in Bombay before it became Mumbai distinguishes this resolutely lyrical fifth novel from the internationally acclaimed Anglo-Indian author (A New World, 2000, etc.).

The book incorporates an interlocking chain of contrasts between two temperamentally opposed protagonists, their families and the eternally opposed polarities of art and commerce. Shyam Lal, arriving at young manhood in the early 1980s, is a classically trained music tutor and vocal coach who has swerved from the path trod by his father, a much admired singer. “Shyamji” has tuned into contemporary culture, “tak[ing] advantage of the musical currency of the day, of the songs with which a middle class… expressed its dreams.” Though Shyamji prospers most by indulging wealthy females in their pursuit of celebrity (think Slumdog Millionaire on a higher social level), he agrees to tutor the teenaged son (Nirmalaya) of wealthy Mallika Sengupta, still resentful that she sublimated her own musical gifts to perform as the obedient wife of a locally renowned corporate executive. As Shyamji balances his tutorial duties against carefully thought-out career moves, Nirmalya rebels, declaring pop music empty nonsense and demanding education in India’s classical traditions (he’ll eventually leave his homeland to study philosophy abroad). There’s potential conflict here, but Chaudhuri softens every sharp angle, eschewing drama for a Dutch-interior succession of luminous visual and verbal images that chart the fading of Bombay’s colorful elegance (e.g., when a popular café goes out of business, part of a culture seems lost forever) and the compromised integrity of fleetingly involved secondary characters (including Nirmalaya’s ill-fated father Apura, and his posturing superior, an Englishman who “loves India while helping to appropriate and reshape it”).

Chaudhuri’s prose is unfailingly eloquent, but this prim novel’s virtually plotless restraint repeatedly reduces drama to flat statement. We feel we know each word, because we’ve heard these songs before.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-27022-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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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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