Great potential, clumsy execution.



Love crosses the color line, in the India of the British Raj.

A young Welshwoman arrives in India in 1920 with her newly married husband, a professional soldier. Theirs is a pragmatic union, not a romance, and when the woman meets an Indian doctor—a high-caste Hindu, Oxford-educated, fabulously rich, intensely idealistic—they fall passionately in love. After many separations and ordeals (the doctor is tortured by the Brits, the woman survives a knife attack by her vengeful husband) and many changes of locale (a dreary barracks bungalow, the gorgeous replica of an English country house, idyllic Jammu, wild, anarchic Peshawar), the lovers find refuge in the remote tea hills of Assam. That’s the storyline of Slaughter’s (Dreams of the Kalahari, 1987, etc.) ninth novel, and it looks inviting, possible grist for the Merchant/Ivory mill. Up close, however, there are problems. Isabel Herbert needs to leave Europe and the stench of a war that claimed her childhood sweetheart. But with her money and looks, couldn’t she have found a better mate than Neville Webb, a lowly sergeant and “lout” (Isabel’s word)? And in caste- and class-conscious India, isn’t Dr. Sam Singh slumming when he takes up with Isabel? That’s for starters. Husband Neville departs for the North-West Frontier to fight Afghans, leaving Isabel conveniently on her own, able to slip out of the constricting web of barracks society. It’s all too easy, even for a free spirit like Isabel, as is her flight to Delhi to become a doctor, with no thought of the marital repercussions. Neville does catch up with her, but the other major plot developments occur offstage: The brutal communal violence in which Sam’s wife dies, and a bomb attack aimed at the Viceroy, which leads to Sam’s imprisonment and torture (his father is an arms merchant involved with terrorists). The jerky narrative pauses often to reflect on Sam’s dual nature (black and English) and the age-old paradox of India: extraordinary beauty, abject misery.

Great potential, clumsy execution.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-11399-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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