CRACKING INDIA

Pakistani Sidhwa's third novel (The Bride, 1983; The Crown Eaters, 1982)—written from the point of view of a young girl who's surrounded by the personal and political violence that accompanied the partitioning of India in 1947—manages to do justice to the complexity of racial, ethnic, and religious violence in the era and to evoke the passage from an affluent childhood to the ambiguities of experience. ``India is going to be broken....And what happens if they break it where our house is?'' asks narrator Lenny, the daughter (who turns eight in 1947) of an affluent Parsi family in Lahore. And in fact her household does break apart when her young nanny, or Ayah, is kidnapped. Before that event takes center stage, the novel glorifies in the ``beautifully endowed'' world, which, as evoked by Sidhwa's luminous present-tense prose, is laminated with the magic of childish wonder: moving between her own house and that of her dynamic Godmother (``It is her nature to know things''), who lives ``with her docile old husband and slavesister,'' Lenny dramatizes the textures of multicultural Indian life, with its summer trips to the Himalayan foothills, dinner parties, visits from the ice-candy man, and, increasingly, hints of ``Hindu-Muslim trouble.'' While Lenny ``learns to tell tales'' by ``offering lengthier and lengthier chatter'' to fill dinner-time silences, she also becomes ``aware of religious differences.'' Sikhs start keeping to themselves, whereas before ``everybody is themselves.'' Violence escalates, India is divided, fires appear ``all over Lahore,'' and Ayah is kidnapped. She's finally found in the red-light district, then rescued through Godmother's influence, but it's clear that- -along with India and Lenny—she will never be the same. Richly layered, both realistic and magically evocative as well as topical: a novel that brings to triumphant life an India that ``has less to do with fate than with the will of men.''

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-915943-51-4

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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