Altogether, an unusual and never uninteresting literary niche.



Fifteen elegant tales about the Arab émigré experience in Australia, courtesy of the Down Under continent’s Sallis (The City of Sealions, p. 145).

While the collection tracks an Australian’s immersion in Arab Yemeni culture, the pieces mostly concern the Lebanese community’s often-uneasy fit within Australian society. In three parts, corresponding to groupings of families, Sallis explores the ancient ties to family and culture that unite and haunt these émigrés. In the first story, an allegory for the startling collision between Australian and Arab cultures, a gigantic kangaroo attacks the car of a family on excursion in the Riverland country. Enraged as her husband Amin is battered by the beast, the wife, Zein, gets out and pommels the animal to death with her patent-leather stilettos while shouting, “God is great!” Eventually, and often unfortunately for the preservation of the family as a tightly knit unit, the émigrés begin to adapt to Australian society, as in “Ibtisam Had Four Sons,” about a matriarch, Ibtisam, who can’t quite keep track of all the goings-on of her wildly assimilated children—all they do is deposit news of divorces and ill-begotten pregnancies. In “Music,” the groom’s mother, Zein, rues the marriage of her son to a plain Australian girl whose family eyes the Arabs suspiciously, and yet she finds a redemptive moment watching the “secret, strengthening gift” of love pass between the newlyweds. Several pieces treat a rich local folklore, like “The Jackal,” a chilling dramatization of the saying that a jackal can drag and bury the body of a man. By the third part, Sallis begins introducing political overtones in stories dealing with Iraqis fleeing from American bombings, and Arab stone-throwers being hunted down savagely in Palestine. These latter tales are heavily weighted, though harrowing, and lack the intricate delineation of the earlier ones.

Altogether, an unusual and never uninteresting literary niche.

Pub Date: April 28, 2005

ISBN: 1-74114-071-4

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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