Compelling goals, but this effort falls short of its mark.

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The Last Torpedo

In their debut thriller, Freund and Von Burg examine the murderous Nietzsche-inspired ideology that motivated committed Nazis.

The story begins in 1945 as World War II is finally coming to a close. Rolf Schenker is the captain of a U-boat that has devastated the Allies with its deadly stealth. He’s asked to transport an enormous amount of gold bullion to Brazil on his submarine, but he absconds with the precious cargo—as well as his submarine and crew—to Argentina. An unrepentant Nazi who pines for the reestablishment of the Third Reich, Schenker spends almost 80 years in South America plotting its resurgence. Meanwhile, he struggles to persuade his grandson Heinz of his worldview; he decides the young man has been corrupted by his Argentine (and Christian) girlfriend and plans to have her assassinated. Schenker’s sights are more firmly fixed on geopolitics, though, and he aims to sink a U.S. carrier with the one torpedo his submarine has remaining. Heinz, committed to foiling this plot, intends to blow up the torpedo before his grandfather can reignite WWII. The authors mine the dark caverns of gruesome thought while confronting the fact that, despite Hitler’s failure, those ideas still live on in many quarters of the world. However, the story is plagued by stark implausibility. Eichmann couldn’t conceal himself in Argentina, living modestly, yet Schenker somehow manages with his mansion and pile of gold, not to mention a submarine and crew. Also, it’s never clear how Schenker intends to reinstate the Third Reich or how destroying a U.S. naval ship will accomplish that. The book ambitiously aims to investigate the mind of an unreconstructed Nazi but never gets far beyond the shopworn platitudes of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, revealing little more than a familiar combination of atheism and anti-Semitism. Also, the prose is halting and contrived: “I have felt this intention is typical of my grandfather, who remains a committed Nazi. But I’m hoping he’ll drop this delusion before the trip is over, and before he uses a torpedo that may be inert anyhow.”

Compelling goals, but this effort falls short of its mark.

Pub Date: June 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5118-2272-5

Page Count: 178

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

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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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