A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.

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GOULASH

A young American expatriate struggles to find his footing in late-1990s Prague, which is having a hard time getting its own act together.

Kimberling’s (Snapper, 2013) second book is a comic novel, and the butt of the joke is usually Elliott, who arrives in the Czech capital from Indiana (“the South’s middle finger”) to teach English but is mostly disoriented by its absurd status following the Iron Curtain’s collapse. Elliott’s students allegedly want to claim some of capitalism’s bounty but are mainly interested in learning English slang and mocking Americans’ Cold War behavior. (“Either you had a low opinion of our bombs or a high opinion of your desks,” one student tells Elliott in response to nuclear-bomb duck-and-cover drills.) Elliott is motivated to mature (somewhat) with the arrival of Amanda, a British ESL teacher he quickly falls for. Their romance runs at a low boil—after all, everything feels temporary in the city—but their travels through the new Czech Republic are entertaining, characterized by light irony or black comedy: A performance of Don Giovanni that “might as well have been mounted by toddlers”; the Church of Bones, where “beer cans, candy wrappers, and spent Marlboros” mix with “pelvises, coccyges, patellae, and skulls”; a cozy hotel where they spend the night that turns out to be a brothel. Kimberling has a rich store of peculiar tales to share, from a penguin smuggler to a mansion whose fireplace mantle “could have slept a family of five comfortably.” The novel’s episodic structure and laugh lines diminish the impact of Elliott’s more sour reckonings toward the end, but Kimberling’s deadpan wit and powers of observation amply compensate.

A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-307-90807-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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