Not groundbreaking, and sometimes overly melodramatic, but, still, a solid, engaging, and agonizingly brutal piece of work.

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THE LOVERS OF ALGERIA

An interracial love story set against the harshness of Algerian colonial and civil wars.

After her father allowed her mother to be deported from Switzerland to Germany, Anna leaves home to join the circus, a peripatetic existence leading her to Algiers. There, penniless and bewildered, she leaves the troupe to help a jailed Jewish friend and is caught up in the horrors of colonialism, American wartime liberation, and racism. She also meets the equally penurious Nassreddine, a sweet Chaouï who has experienced injustices himself. With the backdrop of war, the sexually inexperienced pair develops a highly charged erotic relationship, until Nassreddine is arrested for dealing in stolen goods and spends three years in the army in Europe. Back in Africa, he tracks Anna to Madagascar, where for five years they live on a farm and have twins and he remains eager to return to his homeland. French troops arrest, interrogate and torture him during the Algerian war of independence, freedom fighters blame his giving of information for French army massacres and kill his children, and Anna disappears while he is in jail. Forty years later, Anna resurfaces in Algiers, looking for Nassreddine. The civil war rages. She sends a telegram to Nassreddine’s village and then heads off to find him, with a nine-year-old orphaned peanut-seller as guide. Rebels kidnap and brutalize them, until they escape during an army bombing of rebel positions. Finally, Nassreddine and Anna are reunited and they, along with the boy, head to the southern desert regions, still much in love. Despite the human kindness of a few minor characters, however, the story’s lingering images are the bestial bloodthirstiness and sexual predation of French and Algerian men, the inhuman victimization of the Algerian people, and the seeming futility of any solution.

Not groundbreaking, and sometimes overly melodramatic, but, still, a solid, engaging, and agonizingly brutal piece of work.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-55597-404-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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