An expertly woven, if occasionally talky, tale of gender rights and freedom.

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EQUAL OF THE SUN

Sexism, violence and skullduggery cast 16th-century Iran into turmoil in the second historical novel by Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers, 2007).

Javaher, a eunuch, is the loyal servant of Princess Pari, a wise if occasionally headstrong daughter of the shah. He admires both her strong will and her generosity to the impoverished women who come to her for support. But he has personal motives for getting close to the upper tier of Iranian royalty: He is determined to learn who among the nation’s elite is responsible for his father’s murder. That’s what prompted him to become a eunuch and thus enter the court, a transformation that Amirrezvani describes in visceral and surprisingly sensuous detail; though the process itself is unsettling, Javaher becomes an attentive lover, in keeping with his acuity for understanding people’s motivations. His best-laid plans are upset when the shah dies and is replaced with his son Isma‘il, who begins a reign that is neglectful, deadly and petty, and that threatens to break down the fragile truces with neighboring lands. Pari, marginalized by Isma‘il’s tyrannical behavior and overall sexism in the court, begins a scheme to end his reign, with Javaher serving as assistant, sounding board and spy. Making Javaher central to the story is an ingenious tactic on Amirrezvani’s part; his role allows him to navigate the highest and lowest castes of Iranian society, and though the cast of characters is large, the nature of the disputes never become too baroque. The story is bogged down somewhat, though, by many interior scenes that are big on platitude-heavy courtly language. A subplot involving Javaher’s sister has little spark, and even the mystery of his father’s murder lacks much drama. But as Isma‘il’s reign lurches toward its inevitable fate, the closing chapters gain momentum.

An expertly woven, if occasionally talky, tale of gender rights and freedom.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6046-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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