A bit bumpy; still, overall, Ghosh’s fifth is one of his most interesting.



Outsiders are drawn into the exotic vortex of a remote Pacific archipelago.

In a complex narrative filled with echoes of Naipaul and especially Conrad (with an occasional nod to Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord), Anglo-Indian author Ghosh (The Glass Palace, 2001, etc.) interweaves the fates of several natives and visitors to the pristine (if not primitive) Sundarban Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Marine biologist Piya(la) Roy, raised in the United States by Indian parents, has come to the islands to study a rare and endangered marine species, the Irrawaddy dolphin. New Delhi businessman Kanai Dutt (creator of a thriving translation business) is visiting his aunt Nilima, and perusing the history (of the islands’ exploitation by “people who made a push to protect the wildlife here, without regard to the human costs,” and a failed utopian “revolution” waged by settlers and their sympathizers) contained in the journal of Kanai’s uncle Nirmal, a probable victim of political murder. Matters are further complicated when Kanai serves as translator on Piya’s research expedition, in a fishing boat piloted by taciturn islander Fokir, the adult son of an embattled woman (Kusum) who may have been Nirmal’s lover, and appears to have shared his fate. Ghosh tells their stories in parallel narratives suffused with an impressive wealth of historical, cetological and ethnographic detail (which isn’t always successfully dramatized). The result is a fascinating tapestry, in which idealistic motives and carefully preserved secrets alike are vulnerable to a world of various predators—a truth expressed in the beguiling legend of the islands’ “protectress” in combat with a malevolent “tiger-demon,” and during a climactic tropical storm followed by a fateful “tidal surge.”

A bit bumpy; still, overall, Ghosh’s fifth is one of his most interesting.

Pub Date: May 3, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-32997-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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