Still, it’s worth the effort. Mukherjee is a potent writer, and her contrasted and conflicting worlds and times seductively...



A heritage of revenge and violence stalks the protagonist and narrator in Mukherjee’s latest, the second of a trilogy (Desirable Daughters, 2002).

Tara Chatterjee opens it with a terse account of her reunion with former husband Bish (the computer-genius “Raja of Silicon Valley”), crippled when their California home was fire-bombed by one Abbas Sattar Hai, whose motives are initially unclear. Answers lie in the history of Tara’s Indian family, specifically in the story of her Victorian ancestor Tara Lata Gangooly, literally betrothed to a tree when her preadolescent fiancé died of snakebite, and thereafter a secular saint who used the wealth of her untouched dowry to finance Indian resistance to British colonialism. The contemporary Tara accesses the Tree Bride’s story circuitously, through family papers supplied by Tara’s gynecologist Victoria Khanna. Gradually Tara plaits together two crucially related other stories: those of 19th-century foundling “Jack Snow,” whose misadventure aboard a Calcutta-bound ship overtaken by Danish pirates led him to a life of dangerous exploits and ignominy as freelance empire-builder “John Mist”; and Victoria’s grandfather Virgil Treadwell, a British colonial officer traumatized by an unconventional upbringing, lured by the beauty and mystery of the Indian subcontinent, shaped and stunted by his encounters with both the victims and the agents of his culture’s proprietary energies. Mukherjee’s tale itself displays similar energies, rising to a spectacular climax when Tara, hugely pregnant, barely escapes death again—and begins to understand how “an indiscriminate killer in India and America, was born and possibly raised in my family’s house.” The Tree Bride is thus filled with absorbing stuff, and really rather brilliantly worked out. But its past and present are so densely entangled that there’s almost too much information for a reader to absorb.

Still, it’s worth the effort. Mukherjee is a potent writer, and her contrasted and conflicting worlds and times seductively draw us in.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4013-0058-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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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 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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