Like Heart of Darkness, with which similarities abound, this narrative is both tragic and traumatic.

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SEVEN HOUSES IN FRANCE

The title alludes to the brutal exploitation of rubber-tappers in the early-20th-century Congo, for Capt. Lalande Biran of the Belgian Force Publique has promised his Parisian wife seven houses with the proceeds of his licit and illicit dealings.

Biran is one of many merciless Belgians in the service of King Leopold in 1903, yet in some ways he’s the most urbane of them all, for he’s a poet and a cultivated man of letters. Every week, however, he has his orderly Donatien procure him a native girl—and she must be a virgin owing to his fear of contracting a disease. (Biran’s usual habit is to give the girl to Donatien after his carnal desires are sated.) Second-in-command is Lt. Richard Van Thiegel, who keeps a list of amorous encounters by the race of the girl he exploits. When Van Thiegel finds a picture of the captain’s ravishing wife, he decides to make her number 200 on his list once he leaves the service. Introduced into this morass of corruption is Chrysostome Liège, a new soldier in the Force Publique, and one who doesn’t fit the mold. He’s a crack shot, is devoted to the Virgin Mary and doesn’t seem to have an interest in the native girls, a fact that Van Thiegel begins to exploit by referring contemptuously to Chrysostome as a “poofter.” Biran tries to speed up his ability to acquire his seven houses and is able to when the price of ivory and mahogany, both of which he illegally harvests, soars. Meanwhile, as a public relations gesture, Leopold is sending a statue of the Virgin Mary to the Congo, and the soldiers must prepare an adequate welcome.

Like Heart of Darkness, with which similarities abound, this narrative is both tragic and traumatic.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-623-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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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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