A fresh spirit animates this tale, one carefully constructed, simply narrated, and briskly organized.

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HIMALAYAN DHABA

An engaging debut novel (originally self-published in 1995) describes the complicated lives of various expatriates living in the hinterlands of northern India.

Mary Davis is a long way from home. A physician from Baltimore, recently widowed, Mary has traveled to a remote Indian village in the shadow of the Himalayas to work in a small mission hospital that her late husband Richard once served. Why? Partly to forget, partly to remember: Richard had always spoken so lovingly of the place and its people (especially of hospital director Dr. Vargeela) that Mary thought the trip would not only serve to distract her from her grief but to bring her in some way closer to her husband’s memory. The reality, of course, was something of a shock. Dr. Vargeela was an able physician indeed—but he disappeared on a business trip shortly after Mary’s arrival and left her in charge of the entire operation. She quickly learned to function without the luxuries of American hospitals (MRIs, blood labs, etc.) and soon found herself practicing without many of the essentials (antibiotics and disinfectants). But most annoying were the hippies who drifted through the region: perpetually drunk and stoned, they took up endless hours in the clinic with their overdoses and accidental injuries. One of them, Phillip Davenport, becomes a major nightmare: The son of a British diplomat, Phillip breaks his neck and has to be evacuated to a better-equipped hospital elsewhere. This task is entrusted to Meena, a young but dedicated nurse, and a shady British driver named Antone. Swaddled in the back of an ancient Jeep, Phillip is painstakingly driven along the bad roads of the region for several days—until Antone concocts a scheme to kidnap Phillip and demand a ransom for his safe delivery. Secreted in an out-of-the-way inn with the loyal Meena, Phillip awaits his rescue. Will it come in time?

A fresh spirit animates this tale, one carefully constructed, simply narrated, and briskly organized.

Pub Date: June 3, 2002

ISBN: 0-525-94690-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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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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