Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kivirähk’s well-plotted story of language, loss, and fanaticism speaks powerfully to our...

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THE MAN WHO SPOKE SNAKISH

No shortage of blood spills across the pages of Kivirähk’s epic, fantastical novel, his first to appear in English.

In the forest of medieval Estonia, Leemet is one of the last humans to speak Snakish. That powerful language commands deer to lie down to be slain, wolves to allow themselves to be milked, and bears to lose their free will in order to do the bidding of others. Despite these powers, most forest dwellers have swapped their hunter-gatherer existence for agrarian life in the village, taking on Christian names, forgetting the old language, and yearning to speak German, the language of the iron men. Throughout, the mindset of “We’ve always done things this way” does battle with “It’s foreign so it must be good.” Each side proclaims the foolishness of the other using logic that is equally faulty, which is, of course, the point. Naturally, violence erupts from blind convictions, whether Christian or pagan, homespun or foreign. Invasions beget witch hunts beget massacres. The endless stream of blood lust and revenge drags on a bit too long, but wry humor offers relief from myriad spilled guts and beheadings. Leemet’s mother gets tearful when he can’t eat entire haunches of venison; forest women take bears as lovers, who moon after them with lovelorn sighs; and villagers lament not having the opportunity to sing in monasteries as castrati. Most astonishing is the inventive imagery, from lice crossbred large enough to be ridden by people to a legless flying savior who swoops across the cold sea to bludgeon knights and monks. Bears here exude more warmth and humanity than humans.

Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kivirähk’s well-plotted story of language, loss, and fanaticism speaks powerfully to our world’s ever present conflicts.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2412-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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