A sensitive, well-told story of one life ruined by the racism of involuntary assimilation.

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CONCENTRATION CAMPS OF CANADA

A Native Canadian boy tries to find his way as a man despite his cultural alienation in this novel.

The residential school system aimed to forcibly assimilate Native peoples by taking children from their parents. The kids were given European names, punished for speaking their own languages, and put to work. Abuses and exploitation were rife, and many children died. In this tale, Migizi Baswenaazhi, a young Native boy, is taken from his home and put in a harsh school where he’s assigned the name David Bass. Unlike many children, he survives disease and the bad food; polite and hardworking, he at first does well. But David is an outsider in his own country. He turns to drinking for escape and wrecks whatever he’s built up. Yet he’s hopeful, reflecting that he’s like the tannery furs that become soft and warm again after harsh processing: “The truth of the material survived everything.” World War II gives David the opportunity to find his truth as a warrior. But helping to liberate Bergen-Belsen disturbs him, bringing back memories about being sexually abused by a priest at the school. At home, he’s hailed as a hero, though by 1960 he still can’t protect his family from the schools. According to the book’s introduction by Baron Alexander Deschauer (Slaves of Circumstance, 2017, etc.) and debut author Lucky Deschauer, “Hitler was so inspired by the residential school system…that he used it as a model for the concentration camps.” It’s true that Hitler found inspiration from the design of Native American reservations but not from the schools, so this statement and the title are misleading. That said, the schools were horrific, and this novel is far more thoughtful than its sensationalist introduction or title would suggest. The Deschauers capture David’s point of view with intelligence and sympathy. A farmer’s harsh words strike him “like the branches that slapped my face when I was young and followed my father in the bush,” as if even then the world conspired to slap David with his ethnicity. They portray David’s complications well—his anger, self-hatred, despair, and rationalizations—as when he beats his wife with his belt: “I knew how to do it; the sisters and brothers did it often enough to us. They helped me become the man I was.”

A sensitive, well-told story of one life ruined by the racism of involuntary assimilation.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

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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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