A gripping South American adventure set in a bygone time and place.

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Selva Trágica

CAPTIVE IN THE JUNGLE

Hernandez (Sangama, 2014) tells the story of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe taking a white woman captive.

In this new translation, Enstam brings the late Peruvian author, known for his writing about the Amazon basin, to English-language readers. This book, first published in Spanish in 1954, is a version of an allegedly true story of the late 1920s. Mariana, the young wife of hunter Alfredo, accompanies him into the jungle in search of game. A band of warriors from a native tribe approach them and appear friendly at first—but then, when Alfredo’s guard is down, they use his shotgun to murder him and kidnap Mariana. If this attack seems treacherous to readers, the author explains that it’s simply the way of the jungle: “The mind of the savages does not conceive the attack from the front, above all in their wars. They mock the white man who marches through the jungle, announcing his presence to the four winds.” They carry Mariana away and make her the wife of one of the warriors; as a result, she’s treated to a crash sociology course in the ways of the Amazon. Even as she becomes immersed in her captors’ culture, though, the words of the dying Alfredo are never far from her mind: “Don’t be afraid; someday you will be able to escape.” The novel’s premise may be problematic to those with modern post-colonial sensibilities. The language is certainly marked by the common worldview of the time of its original composition; it consistently refers to the Amazonian tribesman as savages, for example. That said, if readers can get beyond the author’s Western bias, there’s much to enjoy in this tale. Hernandez is a wonderful, hypnotic writer of action and fear, and his rendering of the jungle, which pulses with life at every level, is a treat to inhabit. Enstam’s translation is also wonderfully readable; indeed, this is a book to get lost in.

A gripping South American adventure set in a bygone time and place.

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0978691417

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Quaestor Press, Limited

Review Posted Online: June 4, 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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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