Reserved storytelling damages a potentially riveting tale.

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THE STREET OF A THOUSAND BLOSSOMS

A disappointing saga of brothers in World War II Tokyo.

Tsukiyama (Dreaming Water, 2005, etc.) was perhaps aiming for a restrained grace in her narrative of two boys growing up amidst the destruction of war, but instead the novel offers little more than a listless chronology of Hiroshi and Kenji’s triumphs and sorrows. Beginning in 1939, the Japanese war in Asia has little impact on the young boys who live in a quiet district in Tokyo. As toddlers their parents died in a boating accident, and ever since the two have been raised, and doted upon, by their loving grandparents, Fumiko and Yoshio. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, life becomes gradually more miserable; there are blackouts, food shortages and the dangerous Kempeitai, a neighborhood association that serves as spy, extortionist and executioner to those under their jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the boys still have ambitions—older Hiroshi is to become a sumo wrestler and Kenji a mask maker for the Noh theater. Kenji and Hiroshi are lucky enough to survive the fire bombings that devastate Tokyo, but others are not so fortunate—namely Haru and Aki. The two young girls escape but watch their mother perish, an event that has long-lasting effects on both the girls and Hiroshi and Kenji. After the war Hiroshi becomes an apprentice sumotori (in the stable owned by Haru and Aki’s father) and Kenji goes to university to study architecture. As they become young men, they realize their dreams as Hiroshi climbs the professional ranks of sumo and Kenji gives up architecture for a quiet studio space to carve masks. They both marry (Hiroshi to the suicidal Aki) with tragic results, but through their support of each other, and the nurturing of loved ones, they recover some sense of well-being. Though Tsukiyama creates a vivid portrait of war-time Tokyo and the city’s rebuilding, the history overshadows the characters living it. Hiroshi and Kenji move through the years, yet there is little to draw the reader into their emotional lives.

Reserved storytelling damages a potentially riveting tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-27482-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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