Elegant, confident prose brings this tale to life, and though the trope of the road as a journey to self-understanding is a...

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HOW TO READ THE AIR

A sometimes somber, always searching novel of love, loss and the immigrant experience by Ethiopia-born writer Mengestu (The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, 2006).

Mariam and Yosef are miserable, and for several reasons, not least the fact that husband and wife do not really know each other. Torn from their homeland by civil war, they have been plopped down on the flats of Illinois, settled in the white-bread city of Peoria and left to fend for themselves. Yosef, though, has ambition, and in time he puts himself behind the wheel of a weathered Monte Carlo—“a shabbier shade of red than the one she imagined”—and points its nose toward a destination, Nashville, since he loves nothing more than country music. It is not the honeymoon that Mariam, separated from Yosef for years, has dreamed of, and indeed, though the distance from Peoria to Nashville is less than 500 miles, it turns into something quite spectacularly ugly. Years later, their son, Jonas Woldemariam, is grappling with reality and identity. Smart and literate, he’s living in New York City, teaching English at a fancy prep school while provoking wonder that he’s so well-spoken and up on things American. Of course, he is American, thanks to a life in Peoria; when Jonas tells an interviewer of that fact, Mengestu writes, with gentle but pointed humor, “I could see him wondering if it was possible that there was more than one Peoria in this world, another situated perhaps thousands of miles away from the one he had heard of in the Midwest and therefore completely off his radar.” As if by way of proof, Jonas has a suitable roster of American neuroses and problems, including a marriage that seems to be disintegrating with each day. And what better to speed that collapse than to try to re-create his parents’ fateful journey, tragedy and all?

Elegant, confident prose brings this tale to life, and though the trope of the road as a journey to self-understanding is a very old one, Mengestu gives it a fresh reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59448-770-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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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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