A brilliant, many-colored work, and a stunning companion piece to the rather different The Fire of Origins. Dongala may be...



The transformation of a "continent of sorcerers and fetish makers" into a modern culture is paralleled by the growth to young manhood of a delightful protagonist: a glorious 1998 novel by the native Congolese author (now American citizen) of The Fire of Origins (2000).

In a deadpan opening that slyly mocks the pop grandiosity of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Michel (a.k.a. "Matapari," which means, roughly, "trouble") describes his remarkable birth as an unnoticed triplet who emerged from his mother's womb a day later than his elder twin brothers on the 20th anniversary of his unnamed country's independence. Matapari grows up intellectually curious under the benign influence of his scholarly father, a gentle skeptic; as a would-be "tough guy" inspired by films and TV ("dreaming of being Rambo or Mad Max"); as a well-meaning idealist attracted by both the world of political influence and by the wealth courted by his scheming uncle Boula Boula (a wonderful braggart and trickster who might have stepped out of one of V.S. Naipaul's early novels); and as a devout student of "the books of man and the book of the universe" who's urged on Matapari by his beloved Grandfather. This unfailingly lively and charming tale, filled with boisterous comic episodes, deepens appreciably as it proceeds, when the machineries of "democratization" lead inexorably to violence in the streets, political imprisonment, persecution, and to Matapari's realization that the promises of discovery and healing contained in the texts his father worships will always be interrupted and subverted by men who pursue earthly agendas rather than "the stars." Dongala ends it all memorably, as Matapari's family keeps a solemn vigil during Grandfather's final illness.

A brilliant, many-colored work, and a stunning companion piece to the rather different The Fire of Origins. Dongala may be the most accomplished novelist from Africa since Chinua Achebe.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-18496-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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