THE LAND AT THE END OF THE WORLD

This semi-autobiographical novel about Portugal’s war in Angola was originally published in 1979.

That war, Portugal’s doomed attempt to hang on to its African colony, lasted from 1961 to 1974. It was conducted ineptly by the Fascist regime of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. The unnamed narrator, a doctor, was conscripted in 1971. He presents us with three selves. The first is the thumbnail sketch of a child and young man who is the product of right-wing youth movements and Catholic ritual. A loner, he is the prisoner of melancholy. That word permeates the novel. The second self is the 20-something doctor unwillingly at war, living in a desolate, hellish series of barracks in Eastern Angola. The PIDE (secret police) agents are fearsome. Antunes challenges himself (and the reader) by describing the scene in dense paragraphs of run-on sentences. What should be incantatory too often becomes monotonous. Moments of relief are few: on leave in Lisbon with his wife and daughter, back in the bush in the arms of Sofia, his African washerwoman; here, the white oppressor granted absolution by his magnanimous black victim is a disappointing stereotype. The narrator becomes radicalized, cursing the Fascists who have sent him on this fool’s errand; yet for him the greatest horror is lacking the courage to protest, even as a PIDE agent inflicts torture, even after learning that they have abducted Sofia. We see the result in the narrator’s third self: the doctor in Portugal several years later, an empty shell. He is talking to a female companion, a late-night bar pick-up. (These moments alternate with the Angola scenes.) He invites her home but is unable to satisfy her; no surprise there. It’s also no surprise that he’s separated from his wife and alienated from his daughters; the author’s grim determinism has foreclosed different outcomes.   More effective as an indictment of colonial war than a psychological study. 

 

Pub Date: May 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07776-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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