Cloying and pretentious.

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BEFORE I FORGET

A famous, progressive, aging South African writer salutes all the women he has loved in this latest from the famous, progressive, aging South African Brink (The Other Side of Silence, 2003, etc.).

It’s 2003, and 77-year-old Afrikaner novelist Chris Minaar is losing his two greatest loves: his mother (Mam), and a beautiful sculptor, Rachel Lombard. Mam, only occasionally lucid at 102, is about to die in her nursing-home; and Rachel has died already, from brain injuries, the result of a brutal highway murder. Their stories are interwoven through those of the other women Chris has known, but it’s Rachel’s that predominates. They had met by accident. Rachel was married, happily, to George, a globe-trotting photographer, and her relationship with Chris was platonic, but nonetheless intense. They talked incessantly and unabashedly about love, its connection to time, the nature of orgasms and so on. Chris also hit it off with George, and the three became best friends. This did not stop Chris from rhapsodizing about what Rachel exemplified: “The taste of women, which is beyond the taste of fruit and wine.” Before Rachel, there was Daphne, Bonnie, Aviva, Nicolette . . . it’s a long list, but Chris denies he’s playing a numbers game. For him, each woman is unique and irreplaceable, but that’s not all; Chris the anti-apartheid activist declares, “every turn . . . of history over the last century, I could mark with the memory of a woman.” This makes for contrivance, as when the assassination of Prime Minister Verwoerd spurs his marriage to Helena. It’s his only marriage, and it ends horribly. Arguing with her about his latest infidelity, he causes a car accident, killing Helena and their young son. Chris is curiously reticent about the tragedy, no doubt because it shows him in a bad light; elsewhere, he presents himself as a sensitive lover, never insistent, always willing to let go; there’s also the implication that he must have been one helluva stud.

Cloying and pretentious.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-4022-0866-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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