Brimful with love, nature, energy, and intellect: history proved on the pulse and expressed through the heart. A treasure.

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LICHTENBERG AND THE LITTLE FLOWER GIRL

Hoffman died in 1993, and his last novel (following The Film Explainer, published here in 1996), translated again by his own son, is a quietly powerful masterpiece of human charm that manages to capture the very essence of the Enlightenment in Germany.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg was a real person (1742–99), and here he lives all over again as a fictionalized presence—small, short, hunchbacked, eccentric, and utterly charming, a professor in Göttingen, ever-curious intellectually, well known among the international community of thinkers and scholars—and yearning for a private life of passion, fulfillment, and affection. How could a squat and ugly little hunchback ever hope for such? Well, how could it ever come about that a pretty girl of 13, Maria Dorothea Stechard, a flower-seller on the street, should move into his house and live there with him, alone, for a number of years? It hardly matters how, but that it did happen matters greatly: and readers will be intrigued indeed at the way the two live together, preternaturally shy at first, then bit by bit coming to terms with each other, and, finally, falling into love and fulfillment in a way wholly captivating in its charm and utterly lacking in any prurience whatsoever. The end that comes to this exquisite love will bring a tear to the reader’s eye, but not before much else of genuine interest takes place—lectures to students; correspondence with and sometimes visits from scientific greats of the era (“He was in contact with Bernoulli, Delalande, Maskelyne, Messier, Cassini, with Mallet in Geneva and Rumowski in St. Petersburg,” not to mention Volta, Lessing, and Blumenbach); the seriocomedy of death (“Because he had passed on, Erxleben had stopped coughing”); the wonder of teaching Maria Stechard how to read; and Lichtenberg’s endless jotting of notes large and small on the nature of life.

Brimful with love, nature, energy, and intellect: history proved on the pulse and expressed through the heart. A treasure.

Pub Date: May 26, 2004

ISBN: 0-8112-1568-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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