Difficult to stomach in its encyclopedic panoply of horror, but effective in its visceral recall of a present not so far...




An exhaustive, dialogic novel of Auschwitz, centering on the role and trial for war crimes of the real-life Victor Capesius, a pharmaceutical-company representative who became SS pharmacist and, despite friendships with Jews and being himself half Jewish, selected victims for the gas chamber and profited from their gold.

The narrator, haunted by his own distant connections to Capesius, who taught his mother dancing, and “Adam,” the self-described last Jew of Schäßburg, a secret camp diarist, use their dialogue to thread together accounts of survivors, SS soldiers, camp leaders and Capesius himself, absorbing memories, trial testimonies, conversations, letters and personal reflections. The narrator struggles to make sense of the horrific accounts of systematic murder and intimidation. While rich with sadistic, sickening fact, the dialogic framework opens windows into the psychological dimensions of this hell: the conflicted impulses of survival and altruism, as well as the self-hatred buried beneath the Germans’ persecution of non-Germans. Replete with the sadistic details of the Nazis’ program of racial purification, these intertwining and often conflicted accounts reflect the nightmares and self-delusions of participants as well as the tenacity of souls grappling to maintain some toehold on meaning amid the nihilism. The narrator seizes on the redemptive powers of poetry and language, manifested in the human spirit standing up to the void—a Rabbi at the moment of his own slaughter condemns his killers, a child’s eyes glint before the barrel of the small-caliber Mausers used in executions. Adam has inscribed his diaries in the German detested by the oppressed but defends this as the perfect medium for his account, despite the polyglot languages of the camp. For he sees himself as both a German and a Jew, and it is in his German, not the debased German of his captors, that he preserves an epic of conflicted identity.

Difficult to stomach in its encyclopedic panoply of horror, but effective in its visceral recall of a present not so far removed from this waking nightmare.

Pub Date: April 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-14406-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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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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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 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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