No great novel, but could maybe make a nifty telenovela.



The adventures of several Cuban immigrant women in America are affectionately depicted in this colorful debut from a Cuban-born journalist and former TV scriptwriter.

Its central protagonist is Graciela Altamira, beautiful young mother of two sons, who is separated from her schoolteacher husband Ernesto and working in a doll factory in Union City, N.J. Graciela tells her own story, juxtaposed with the narrations of her fellow townswomen (from the nondescript village of Palmagria) and coworkers, hot-tempered Imperio and her kinder, gentler counterpart, Caridad. Their drab lives are enriched by their shared obsession with the Spanish-language telenovelas whose feverish romanticism cunningly exploits viewers’ hopeful anticipation of the moment in each series “when the first kiss between our favorite new couple would take place.” But television dramas are no match for Graciela’s passionate history, as the unlikely second spouse of a passive widower, the lover of Palmagria’s predominant young stud (Pepe) and—in a twist none of the women has foreseen—the chosen beloved of their very definitely un-Latino shop foreman Barry O’Reilly, meaning (they realize with horror) that “Graciela was going to be our supervisor.” A lot of this is quite entertaining, but the gradually assembled picture of the Castro revolution’s devastating effect on close-knit Cuban families is overdone, and Santiago finds himself still scrambling to layer in expository information more than halfway through. Nice characterizations throughout help, however, as do a handful of capably paced and detailed sequences (in the best of them, an extended flashback, Imperio takes her ailing husband Mario to a santería priest for a most unconventional cure). Santiago’s novel pales in comparison with its presumable model, Mario Vargas Llosa’s comic masterpiece Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter—but then what doesn’t?

No great novel, but could maybe make a nifty telenovela.

Pub Date: July 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-316-01412-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Back Bay/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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