BRUISED HIBISCUS

Set in Trinidad during the 1950s, this dense, often convoluted novel loosely intertwines the stories of two women, each trapped in a loveless, degrading marriage. When the body of a white woman probably killed by her husband washes up on the shore of a beach in Otahiti, it sets off ripples of shock that affect all the villagers. Rosa, daughter of an English plantation family, has fantasies of killing her own spouse, Cedric, a black schoolteacher who abuses her emotionally and sexually. Similar fantasies inspire Zuela, who must protect her 10 children from the cruelty of their opium-addicted Chinese merchant father. Zuela and Rosa were friends as children, but when they saw a man forcing sex upon a young girl, the shame and horror of what they witnessed created a rift between them. Chance brings them together again, but their destinies work themselves out quite differently. When Cedric develops stomach cancer, Rosa is filled with guilt and turns to her black former nurse, who provides a cure and helps Rosa find the strength to leave her awful marriage. But it is not Rosa's fate to be saved, even after all the penance and rhetoric of self-discovery (which sounds curiously contemporary). Zuela fares better: When she learns that her husband has raped their daughter, she finds the singleness of purpose to break the shackles that bind her to him. Nunez (When Rocks Dance, 1986) has written an ambitious book that is most successful in its portrayal of a particular culture, time, and place. She is less successful in making Rosa's and Zuela's story lines reflect and intersect with each other; the connections feel forced and contrived, and the symbolism of the final chapters is pretty heavy-handed. Lovely in parts, but finally spoiled by its excesses of language, plot, and metaphor.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56743-065-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more