A major achievement, likely to be remembered as one of this year’s best books.

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THE SURRENDERED

The odyssey of a Korean War refugee becomes first the subject of, then a haunting overture to, the award-winning Korean-American author’s fourth novel (Aloft, 2004, etc.).

Lee’s introspective and interrogatory novels seek the sources of their characters’ strengths and weaknesses in their own, and their families’ stories—nowhere more powerfully than in this exhaustive chronicle of three hopeful lives tempered in the crucibles of wars and their enduring aftermaths. In a patiently developed and intermittently slowly paced narrative that covers a 30-year span and whose events occur in four countries and on three continents, the entangled histories of three protagonists are revealed. We first encounter 11-year-old June Han, traveling with her twin siblings following the deaths of their parents toward safety with their uncle’s family. June’s willed stoicism and suppression of fear serve her well in extremity, but they will have a far different effect on her later life—shaped when she is rescued by American G.I. Hector Brennan (himself in flight from the memory of a painful loss). Hector brings June to Sylvie Tanner, a minister’s wife who runs an orphanage (and whose own demons owe much to the savagery of history in another place and another time). Each character’s past, motivations and future prospects are rigorously and compassionately examined, as the author follows them after the war. In its ineffably quiet way, there really is something Tolstoyan in this searching fiction’s determination to understand the characters specifically as members of families and products of other people’s influences. The characterizations of Hector and Sylvie are astonishingly rich and complex, and the risk taken in depicting the adult June as the woman readers will hope she would not become is triumphantly vindicated.

A major achievement, likely to be remembered as one of this year’s best books.

Pub Date: March 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-976-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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