A readable, compassionate portrait of roles, especially women’s, in a Haredi community that only occasionally strays into...

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THE MARRYING OF CHANI KAUFMAN

Not just love and tradition, but rules and expectations shape the relationships of two couples from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, in a British novelist’s engaging debut.

No touching, no television, no immodesty of dress or behavior. The strictures of the North London religious community Harris evokes in her Man Booker Prize longlisted first novel make an extreme contrast with the norms of secular life. In this contained world, in 2008, Chani Kaufman and Baruch Levy are getting married after a mere three dates. Opening with their wedding ceremony, the story loops back to the couple’s first encounter, the matchmaker’s involvement, the courtship, the parents’ reactions (his mother doesn’t approve) and the proposal. Shy but smart, virgins both, Chani and Baruch seem to be well-matched. But so were Chaim and Rebecca (now Rivka), the rabbi and his wife—parents of Baruch’s friend Avromi—who met in Jerusalem in 1982, fell in love in freer, more vibrant circumstances, yet now live lives shaped by piety and conservatism. Harris’ simple, sympathetic, sometimes-comic portrait of a tight-knit world gently illuminates its anxieties and tensions, and through Avromi’s secret relationship with a fellow college student she exposes the sacrifices and choices its members make out of loyalty and belief. As Rivka, who's responsible for preparing Chani for her new role as wife, reaches a crisis in her own life, Chani experiences the excitement of her wedding and the two women’s paths diverge, following their sharply distinct trajectories.

A readable, compassionate portrait of roles, especially women’s, in a Haredi community that only occasionally strays into stereotype.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2273-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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