A nuanced slice of immigrant life.

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THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS

After 17 years, an Ethiopian immigrant wonders to what extent he has become an American.

Every Tuesday evening, three friends meet in the back room of Sepha Stephanos’s bedraggled Logan Circle convenience store to drink, give advice and wax philosophical about Africa, their mother continent. The trio—“Ken the Kenyan,” “Joe from the Congo” and Sepha, who was so skinny he didn’t need a nickname to remind them that he was Ethiopian—met as young hotel clerks when they first arrived in Washington, D.C., but since then, they have taken different paths. Joseph and Kenneth graduated from Georgetown and went on to get higher degrees and well-paying jobs, while Sepha attended community college and then opened his store. As an upscale clientele moves into the predominantly lower-class African-American neighborhood, Sepha’s business dwindles. With the changes, though, comes Judith, a wealthy white woman, and Naomi, her enchanting biracial daughter. Naomi and Sepha strike up an unlikely friendship, and he spends evenings in the empty store with her, reading Dostoevsky. Judith begins to join them, and she and Sepha dance around the possibility of a romantic relationship. As racial tensions grow in the neighborhood, Sepha wonders if he will be able to woo Judith. But around the holidays, she suddenly leaves her house and sends Naomi to boarding school. Alone again, Sepha recalls his childhood in Addis Ababa, where, as a member of the upper class, he’d had high hopes for a different kind of life, before he witnessed his father’s murder and fled the country. Mengestu skirts immigrant-literature clichés and paints a beautiful portrait of a complex, conflicted man struggling with questions of love and loyalty.

A nuanced slice of immigrant life.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-940-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2006

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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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