Sometimes lively and provocative, but frequently as pretentious as Gail’s spiritually shaped chocolates.

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THE SAINT OF INCIPIENT INSANITIES

A first English translation from Turkish author Shafak follows the lives of three foreign students in Boston to explore community and alienation while playing with ideas about language, religion, and culture.

Arriving from Turkey to work on his Ph.D. in political science, Omer moves into a house with Piyu, a Spanish dental student, and Abed, a Moroccan studying biotechnology. Unlike the Catholic, hot-chocolate-drinking Piyu and the Moslem, mint-tea-drinking Abed, who both remain devout, Omer, who drinks coffee and liquor and listens to American music nonstop, no longer practices Islam. Despite their differences in culture and language, the three men’s outsider status (as well as their common reliance on English as a second language) binds them together while each struggles to find where he resides in spirit. They play word games and take care of their dog. They eat wonderful meals prepared by Piyu’s Mexican-American girlfriend Alegre, a secret bulimic whose gorging and disgorging is described in painful detail. Alegre widens their social circle by adding Waspy Debra Ellen Thompson from her eating disorders therapy group and Debra’s former lover Gail, half-Jewish and highly neurotic, with whom Debra runs a candy business, Squirmy Spirit Chocolates (an odd inconsistency, since they are vegans, and the chocolates described sound buttery rich). Abed’s mother comes to visit, bringing a disappointing letter from his Moroccan girlfriend, and Abed is surprised how well she adjusts to his American friends. In fact, she suggests that Abed marry Gail. Instead, Omer and Gail fall in love, a union of Omer’s internal anger and Gail’s deep sadness. They marry, but Gail’s depression will conquer their connection. Throughout, the characters talk about philosophy and sociology, although they skirt thornier political issues, while Shafak’s use of language veers from masterful to awkwardly convoluted.

Sometimes lively and provocative, but frequently as pretentious as Gail’s spiritually shaped chocolates.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-25357-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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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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