Tailor-made for Hollywood, and sure to jerk a few tears.

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EMPIRE SETTINGS

A South Africa native and practicing lawyer debuts with a light story about a privileged white family making their way through guilt and broken hearts in a post-apartheid world.

The Divin family prospered throughout apartheid, but they were good people. After father Silas killed himself over money troubles and the walls of apartheid began to totter in the late ’70s, the family exploded: son Danny ran off to America and success in finance; sister Bridget was jailed on the belief that she’d had a relationship with a black man, then followed Danny; and mother Helga, once a left-leaning political candidate, exited to London with a new husband, Arnold, a South African fat-cat. Family infighting forms the story’s tension, and Schmahmann is far better at depicting subtle family dynamics than addressing international political issues. Each character narrates his or her own chapter, Danny getting two to accommodate his thing for black women. Danny’s youthful romantic fling with a neighbor’s servant girl was true love, and he hasn’t forgotten her even after marrying an African-American woman, first for citizenship, then for something apparently deeper than friendship. Now, it’s the 20-year Divin reunion. Helga and Arnold arrive in the US to see the children and grandchildren, but of course there’s an ulterior motive: grandfather left a cool $6 million in the country, and can Danny go and get it out despite the laws? And once there, will he see his old fling? And what are the political and romantic ramifications of all this? The author’s tone of lament is easy to submit to, but the descriptions too often read like set direction, the asides like character development. It’s Gordimer territory with neither the majesty of words nor the completeness of vision. Schmahmann tries to keep us on the edge of our seats by tactically withholding critical information, but for the most part the tactic is transparent and ultimately tiresome.

Tailor-made for Hollywood, and sure to jerk a few tears.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-893996-16-6

Page Count: 327

Publisher: White Pine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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