Though this bulky saga is not as compelling as it could be, Kim's portrayal of the effects of mental illness on a family at...

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IF YOU LEAVE ME

In this debut novel, a love triangle is complicated by temperament, circumstance, and history: Korea, 1951-1967.

We meet Haemi Lee at 16, in a refugee camp. The war between North and South has forced what is left of her family—her mother and her invalid younger brother—from their village. In her boredom, she's begun going out at night with a boy named Kyunghwan—they ride a bicycle into town and find ways to drink makgeolli and have some fun. The problem is that by day, she's being courted by this boy's wealthier, orphaned cousin, Jisoo. Jisoo wants to marry Haemi before he enlists, mainly so that he can have the sense that there's a family waiting for him at home when he returns. Haemi's decision plays out over the next 16 years, a time of great upheaval in the lives of all Koreans. The perspective on the action is split among five first-person narrators—the three already mentioned, Haemi's younger brother, and one of her daughters—and leaps over years at a time. This both expands the scope of the story and muffles its emotional power. Most interesting is the character of Haemi, who knows something is wrong with her, something that manifests as irritability, dissatisfaction, impulsivity, and an inability to connect deeply with those closest to her. In a world without diagnoses, therapists, or antidepressants, she will face a challenge even greater than the romantic one—becoming a mother. The character of Haemi is fascinating, her predicament a kind of Korean Virginia Woolf situation.

Though this bulky saga is not as compelling as it could be, Kim's portrayal of the effects of mental illness on a family at a psychologically naïve time is perceptive and moving.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264517-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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