Poignant but not outstanding.



Published in 1944, now reissued in a new translation, this influential first novel by prize-winning Spanish author Laforet (1921–2004) describes one hellish year in the life of a young woman.

In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, orphaned 18-year-old Andrea travels from the provinces to Barcelona to attend university. Her childhood memories of her grandparents’ apartment are good, so it comes as a bitter surprise when she finds herself plunged into bedlam. Her widowed grandmother is sweet but feeble. Her uncles Juan and Román are at each other’s throats. Their sister Angustias is a relentless scold. Juan’s young wife Gloria is foolish and vain. The war is mentioned only obliquely, though it had a direct effect on Román, who was imprisoned and tortured; now he’s engaged in unspecified smuggling, when he’s not making trouble and playing his violin. At least Román has talent—unlike Juan, who turns out bad paintings when he’s not beating Gloria. Andrea finds some relief on campus, where she becomes friendly with self-assured, manipulative Ena, and the apartment becomes marginally less claustrophobic when Aunt Angustias leaves to enter a convent. Still, privacy is nonexistent, food is scarce, and there’s a disquieting new wrinkle when Ena starts visiting Román. This is a Cinderella story without a Prince Charming; Andrea is invited to a party by Pons, a wealthy fellow student, but her acute self-consciousness prevents her from having a good time. Laforet’s portrait of female vulnerability is vivid in its immediacy, but the text is repetitive and poorly structured. Ena’s story, a compelling soap opera, threatens to eclipse the main narrative, and it seems like an easy out to close with Andrea leaving for Madrid to live with Ena. It’s also a problem in a coming-of-age story to close with the narrator concluding that she is “taking nothing” from her nightmarish year. Any epiphany for Andrea, apparently, will come long after the novel ends.

Poignant but not outstanding.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2007

ISBN: 0-679-64345-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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