Tiburcio!

LOVE, CRIME AND REBELLION IN EARLY CALIFORNIA

An ambitious debut novel chronicles the making of an outlaw in frontier California.

Young Tiburcio Vasquez, the hero of Caraccio’s tale, was born in Mexico but raised in the United States, staying in the vicinity of Monterey, California. The year is 1854, and, as soon as the West Coast is conquered, “thousands of squatters are swarming all over the region, from Sacramento to San Francisco.” Tiburcio, a strapping vaquero, master horseman, and snappy guitarist, runs afoul of the new law in town when his cousin Anastacio Garcia shoots a constable in a bar fight. When the town’s vigilantes hold Tiburcio equally guilty, the young man flees to the mountains. Treated as an outlaw, he becomes one, rustling cattle and horses and encouraging his fellow natives to defy the invaders. “In the end,” he promises himself, “you will stand tall and they will cower like beaten dogs.” Tiburcio’s planned rebellion fails, but he proves to be a skillful bandit and spends the remaining 20 years of his life adventuring in the mountains, desert plains, and fields and fermenting insurrection in the jail cells of California (where he becomes a bit of a celebrity, because “he gave the ignorant brutes encouragement that life would improve once they were freed”). All the while, he pines for his true love, Anita, “the slender beauty whose dark eyes reflected the world right back to him.” Eventually, Anita becomes embroiled in the revolutionary politics Tibrurcio stirs up, involved enough to risk her own life and freedom. There is a good deal of truth in Caraccio’s fiction. Tiburcio was a real agitator and, later, an authentic legend in his home state. According to some sources, he was eventually memorialized as the pulp hero Zorro. In Caraccio’s story, the original proves more than a match for the famous avenger, so much so as to occasionally strain plausibility. The author’s research is impeccable, but this is a sweeping book, so necessary invention abounds. Readers come to know not only Tiburcio, but also the people around him: villagers, renegades, and gringos alike. The prose here is always clear and readable, and this 508-page book might have been even longer while still remaining every bit as enlightening and suspenseful. A lively epic of love, invasion, flight, and revolt in the years following the Mexican-American War.

Pub Date: June 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4991-6597-5

Page Count: 508

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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