A powerful and melancholy vision of a nation with long memories and relentless turmoil.

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Communists, oligarchs, and toxic landscapes from Siberia to Chechnya define this collection of tightly linked stories from Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, 2013).

In fact, let’s go ahead and call it a novel: though the individual stories bounce around in time and are told in different voices, they share a set of characters and have a clear narrative arc. More importantly, they share a command of place and character that strikingly reimagines nearly a century of changes in Russia. In the opener, “The Leopard,” a communist censor in 1937 secretly inserts his disappeared brother’s face in the photos he retouches—a fact that re-emerges in later stories and also serves as a symbol for how what’s lost in Russia never quite disappears. (An oil painting of a bland Chechnyan landscape plays a similar role.) From there, the story moves to chilly Kirovsk, a cancer-ridden industrial town that’s struggled to adjust to the fall of Communism, and hometown of Galina, a middling actress who’s risen to fame thanks to her marriage with Russia’s 13th wealthiest man. In Chechnya, we meet her childhood boyfriend, Kolya, who’s been taken prisoner after becoming a soldier. Marra’s Russia is marked by both interconnection and darkly comic irony; Kolya’s stint in captivity is “the most serene of his adult life,” while elsewhere a man is roped into trying to sell mine-ridden Grozny as a tourist destination. (“For inspiration, I studied pamphlets from the tourist bureaus of other urban hellscapes: Baghdad, Pyongyang, Houston.”) As in his previous novel, Marra is deft at managing different characters at different points in time, but the book’s brilliance and humor are laced with the somber feeling that the country is allergic to evolution: KGB thugs then, drug dealers and Internet scammers now, with a few stray moments of compassion in between.

A powerful and melancholy vision of a nation with long memories and relentless turmoil.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7704-3643-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 29, 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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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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