NOVEL WITHOUT A NAME

Another novel of life in wartime North Vietnam from dissident and former Communist Duong (Paradise of the Blind, 1993), whose experience as a Communist Youth Brigade leader gives this story special resonance. The narrator is 28-year-old Quan, a North Vietnamese soldier who has been fighting for ten years. Hair graying, his body worn down by malnutrition and disease, Quan recalls the idealism and Communist fervor that made him first enlist as he and his division now fight on towards the delta. His disillusionment increases as he helps a childhood friend, who has been kept in horrible squalor because the war has driven him mad, find a less dangerous billet, making coffins for the dead soldiers in the midst of the jungle. Quan then returns to his native village, where he finds his father, a former political activist, ill and depressed, unable to get over his guilt at forcing Quan's young brother—a brilliant student—to enlist. (The boy later died.) Quan's great love, pregnant by an unknown man, is shunned by the village and must live in an isolated shack. Only the village's political officer still seems to believe in Marxism. The surrounding countryside is devastated; few young men are left, and the villages are filled with old men and women. Lyrical memories of the past are interspersed with reports of ongoing fighting in which army buddies and fellow villagers lose their lives. Life between battles is no less dangerous: Tigers claim victims, malaria and dysentery strike, and tension leads to murderous fights. By the time Quan's detachment reaches the South only a dozen veterans remain; the rest are young conscripts. Quan will advance even further now, but for what? ``Glory only lasts so long.'' One of those timely novels that assault the status quo with quiet but deadly revelations of the hitherto unknown. Beautifully elegiac. (First serial to Grand Street)

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1995

ISBN: 0-688-12782-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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