A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

GENERAL RAHMINI'S DILEMNA

In this collection of two novellas, the conflicted eponymous character faces more than one dilemma.

In the title piece, Gen. Abdul Rahmini, the former chief of counterintelligence under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, finds himself reluctantly working with the Islamic State group and even more reluctantly being recruited to carry out a suicide mission in America. He’s dead if he manages to slip by U.S. border controls, but as good as dead if he is captured and turned over to Baghdad authorities “who would cheerfully hang him.” But he manages to escape his co-conspirators. Posing as an Episcopalian minister, he winds up in a small Montana town, where he unexpectedly assimilates into the community and falls in love with an American widow. They Call Me the Cobra, an earlier novella, is Rahmini’s origin story; he was a professor who criticized his country’s brutal and repressive secret police in a speech. On the verge of being executed, he is instead installed as the director of the Internal Security Service and given three months to correct its abuses. But as with Michael Corleone, who becomes more brutal than his father, Rahmini ramps up the torture and earns the “Cobra” moniker not just from terrorists, but also his own subordinates. Both of Grayson’s (Fables of the CIA, 2017, etc.) stories have compelling ideas at their core and a strong protagonist. But they are unsatisfactorily dramatized; any suspense becomes undermined by one anticlimax after another. The title novella is the more intriguing of the two tales. It begins as your standard-issue terrorism thriller, but the minister ruse gives the story a Some Like It Hot/Sister Act twist that might have been played for dark comedy. The last third, in which Rahmini ponders revealing his past and illegal status to the woman he loves, would make a potent and timely romantic drama. But taken together, the works do not mesh. General references the murder of Rahmini’s wife and son by “an invading Shia militia unit.” In Cobra, Rahmini has a wife and daughter who survive a bombing of their home. And General is unfortunately riddled with errors (“What did you handle it?” Rahmini asked; “I was...hoist with my own petard”).

 A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-04850-4

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Ingram Spark

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 41

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more