A clever, well-conceived dual portrait that shows what connects and divides Cubans inside and outside of the island.

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KING OF CUBA

Fidel Castro contemplates his legacy at the end of his life while a disgruntled Cuban expat plots to hurry that end along.

The latest from National Book Award–nominated novelist García (Dreaming in Cuban, 1992, etc.) attempts to get inside the head of Castro, who, deep in his 80s, stubbornly clings to the ideals of the revolution while musing on lost loves and past glories. (One well-turned set piece turns on a chintzy musical performed in his honor about the thwarted Bay of Pigs invasion.) Scenes starring Castro alternate with those featuring Goyo, a contemporary of the leader (they attended university at the same time) who’s plotting el presidente's assassination for a universe of reasons, including the deaths of his father and brother. Goyo’s scheme seems at first like an idle Internet obsession, but when Castro announces plans to speak at the United Nations in New York, Goyo turns serious and plans a road trip. Coming along for the ride is Goyo’s drug-addict son, prompting a host of memories of what used to be and what could have been. Castro has similar fixations, which is García’s point: Though Castro and Goyo live two different lives, their memories and heartbreaks each have a similar resonance. To that end, the style of the book resembles less a thriller than a meditative, lightly comic tale of two lust-fueled men on quixotic journeys. Footnoted asides from Cubans and Cuban expats add some broader perspective to the two men’s deeply interior lives, but the book thrives on the intimacy of its leads; in García’s hands, the insomniac, long-winded, mulishly committed dictator becomes, if not exactly sympathetic, at least entertainingly comprehensible.

A clever, well-conceived dual portrait that shows what connects and divides Cubans inside and outside of the island.

Pub Date: May 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1024-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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