A well-crafted tale of entrapment, alert to the risk of exploitation that follows immigrants in a new country.

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AMNESTY

An undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka tries to elude the forces, legal and otherwise, working to push him out of Australia.

Dhananjaya Rajaratnam, the hero of this taut, thrillerlike novel by the Booker Prize–winning Adiga (Selection Day, 2017, etc.), has done everything he can to pass through Sydney unnoticed after his student visa expires. He goes by Danny, the better to assimilate, and works as a housecleaner so fastidious and efficient he’s nicknamed Legendary Cleaner. He lives cheaply and unobtrusively in a storeroom above a grocery store and buys expensive hair highlights to blend into an increasingly expensive city. But during the course of the day the novel covers, his unstable perch is getting wobblier. His phone is obsolete and he can’t afford to replace it, cutting off his lifeline, and he witnesses the aftermath of what he’s sure is a murder committed by Dr. Prakash, one of his clients. The plot of the novel mainly turns on Prakash’s attempts to bully Danny into silence, lest he be reported to Australian immigration authorities. (“Easiest thing in the world, becoming invisible to White people, who don’t see you anyway; but the hardest thing is becoming invisible to brown people, who will see you no matter what.”) But Adiga cannily balances his assured plotting with a style that evokes Danny's justified paranoia. Amid the tick-tock of Danny’s reckoning with Prakash, Adiga chronicles his hero’s history as a migrant, which involves a demoralizing stint in a scammy university and an increasing realization that getting along means disclosing information others can use. “Each time a door opened or slammed…Danny’s heart contracted,” Adiga writes, and he expertly translates that anxiety to the reader.

A well-crafted tale of entrapment, alert to the risk of exploitation that follows immigrants in a new country.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2724-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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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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