Murphy’s debut novel is a purposely limited view of war, as was The Red Badge of Courage, but strong characters and...

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THE BOAT RUNNER

An ambitious coming-of-age story centered on a Dutch family dealing with personal tragedy and the German occupation during World War II.

It’s the summer of 1939, but the rumblings across Europe barely reach Jacob Koopman, Murphy’s 14-year-old narrator, as he enjoys the prosperous life that his father’s light-bulb factory has brought the family. He’s close to his year-older brother, Edwin; has a tattooed rogue in his Uncle Martin, who runs a fishing boat on the North Sea; and even enjoys a stint at a Hitler Youth camp, where the father sends the boys to curry favor for a big deal with Volkswagen. Then Hitler invades Poland on September 1. Edwin disappears during an air raid, and the father must flee when his industrial sabotage is discovered. Uncle Martin enlists Jacob in violent actions against the Germans that disturb the boy, but it’s a Royal Air Force raid on his hometown that persuades him, just shy of 18, to enlist in the German army. There he finds himself in a naval program involving midget submarines carrying a single torpedo and sent off on solo missions with what turn out to be rather low chances of success. At a critical moment, Uncle Martin reappears. Murphy throws so much at this impressionable, tormented Dutch teenager that it’s a wonder he doesn’t crack up. When he finally comes to question loyalties once rooted in family and country, he has embarked on a trek across Europe and another string of engaging adventures. The ending—or endings—may well provoke anything from quibbling to all-night debate.

Murphy’s debut novel is a purposely limited view of war, as was The Red Badge of Courage, but strong characters and compelling narrative convey the impact well beyond one family. An impressive debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-265801-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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