The wretched subjugation of Muslim women overshadows the immigrant adventure story.



Pregnant, unmarried and sentenced to death by her family, a young Arab woman eventually escapes from the Middle East and starts over in England. It’s not easy.

The woman’s name is Salma in her native land (probably Jordan). In England she’s Sally. The Jordanian-British Faqir narrates her third novel in short takes, alternating past and present. Then and now, in Jordan and England, Salma and Sally wink at us like a hologram. Faqir’s purpose is to show just how tenuous Salma’s life in England is, and as details of her past trickle out, we understand why. She lived a simple life with her Bedouin Muslim family, herding goats. In her early teens she and her boyfriend Hamdan became lovers. On learning of her pregnancy, he disowned her. Salma turned to her teacher, who had her put in prison so her tribe would not kill her. She gave birth on the prison floor to a girl she named Layla. The baby was taken from her instantly; Salma had no opportunity to suckle her. (In England, she tries to get her nipples excised.) Six years later, a Lebanese nun removed her to a convent; from there, an English nun escorted her by sea to England. Now she works as a seamstress in Exeter, in the West Country; her landlady is a volatile alcoholic. Salma is still crippled by shame and self-loathing. She imagines her brother Mahmoud stalking her, set to kill, but transcending those fears is her yearning for Layla, who she hears calling her. Tellingly, she can handle anger and rejection in her new life; it is kindness that is unbearable. Much of this is moving and poignant, if needlessly repetitious, but toward the end Faqir (Pillars of Salt, 1997, etc.) loses her way. Salma’s marriage to a gentle English educator and the birth of their son is skimmed over. It seems Faqir has the same difficulty with good news that Salma has with kindness.

The wretched subjugation of Muslim women overshadows the immigrant adventure story.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8021-7040-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

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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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