A gracefully wrought reflection on identity within exile.



Australian author Sallis (Hiam, 1998, etc.) gives a powerful take on the ferocity of mother love as she tracks a young woman’s flight from her island home to Yemen to absorb a new language and culture.

Lian is the daughter of Vietnamese refugee Phi-Van, a so-called “silkie” who appeared almost miraculously from the sea and married Nev, whose farming family had lived for generations on the South Australian island off the coast of Adelaide. Aloof, suspicious Phi-Van, cut off from her past, forms a strange, unsettled relationship with her reserved daughter built on mutual distrust and jealousy: Lian strangles her mother’s beloved puppy when she recognizes the dog gets more loving attention from Phi-Van than she does. As Lian grows up, cocooned on the island, she’s afflicted by her mother’s poisonous, unhappy spirit and takes off to study Arabic in Yemen, believing that to thrive she needs to assume a new identity and never come back. While Lian immerses herself in the strange new culture of Sanaa, where women are rendered publicly invisible by having to don the lugubrious hijab and balto, she cherishes the holy spirit of the ancient language of the Koran and finds welcome communal closeness among the women, whose festive mingling at private parties reminds her of frolicking sea lions she used to watch while diving. She also meets a young religious student, Ibrahim, who truly loves her. Yet even in exile Lian is pursued by the devouring spirit of her mother, who will not be appeased until Lian reckons with her memories: “the wet slap slap slap of Vietnam, the spaces and faces she had never let in.” Peppered throughout the narrative are episodes involving Abdallah from Arabian Nights, reflecting the ageless nature of an ancient culture, though Sallis’s work is strong and evocative enough without them.

A gracefully wrought reflection on identity within exile.

Pub Date: April 26, 2005

ISBN: 1-86508-617-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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 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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