THE MOMENT

An American writer is prompted by receipt of a mysterious package to reflect upon the pivotal moment of his life.

Thomas Nesbitt, a moderately successful travel writer and memoirist, administers the coup de grâce to his faltering marriage when, without his wife’s knowledge, he buys a cottage in Maine. He’s planning to live out his retirement in seclusion when a box arrives from overseas. The return address is that of Thomas’ one-time fiancée, Petra Dussmann. This catapults Thomas and the narrative into an extended flashback going back decades, to 1984, when he arrived in Berlin planning to write about life on both sides of the yet to be dismantled Wall. He moves into a flat sublet by a gay British painter with a heroin habit. Thomas seeks freelance assignments from a U.S.-backed radio station, where his first story is translated into German by Petra Dussmann, a refugee from East Berlin. The two fall effortlessly in love. Up to that point, this bulky novel lags a bit, but the action accelerates when Petra recounts her story. Married to Jurgen, a wunderkind playwright who is driven mad by government repression of his work, Petra has just given birth to son Johannes when Jurgen is arrested. Her own arrest and imprisonment follow: apparently her best friend has been a Stasi informer all along. Jurgen kills himself, Johannes is adopted by a Stasi-approved couple and Petra is traded to the West for some East German agents. As their love deepens Thomas offers to use his American privilege of entering East Berlin to procure some cherished memorabilia of Johannes. However, Petra hasn’t told Thomas everything, and what he doesn’t know will devastate them both. Kennedy’s work harkens back to an earlier era of big novels à la James Michener and Herman Wouk, which is perhaps why—regrettably—he is still more widely read abroad than in his native land. Despite his rambling pace, Kennedy’s evocative prose makes the eventual spellbinding finish worth the trip.

 

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-8079-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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