Though long and sometimes slow moving, the book has considerable merit, particularly for students of women’s literature of...

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THE ART OF JOY

An epic tale of Italian life in the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of an indomitable woman.

Modesta is born into a land of heat and dust at the very dawn of that century: “The mountains always turn black as her hair when the heat lets up,” she recalls, “but when the heat intensifies they turn blue, like the Sunday dress that Mama is sewing for Tina.” It being rural Sicily, a land beyond the pale even of Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, Modesta is brutalized before she is even of school age; the youngest, she does not even stand to receive hand-me-downs. When she’s packed off to a convent school where she’ll at least eat, she’s hardened for battle, but instead she finds—well, love of the sort that dare not speak its name. Modesta grows, becoming increasingly ungovernable even as Italy falls under the sway of fascism, unafraid to declare herself a socialist and resist the regime; with the passing years, she experiences all the normal loves and losses, compounded by her lack of interest in formal definitions of gender or institutions. It’s said that this long novel, which sometimes drifts into the politically doctrinaire (“The way you’re acting, you’re not merely showing respect for the Catholic electorate, you’re meeting it fully and distorting the very roots of our struggle”), is a definitive roman à clef recounting its author’s life, save that Sapienza enjoyed perhaps less success in her life than does Modesta, who enjoys a considerable reversal of fortune; for one thing, Sapienza, who died in 1996 and whose father was a devout anti-fascist, could not find a publisher for the book in her lifetime, and it appeared in Italy only in 2005. Readers without a grounding in Italian history will perhaps not appreciate fully the depth of Modesta’s struggle, while those who are familiar may find in the book a sort of worm’s-eye rejoinder to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, narrated from the point of view of one not born to privilege.

Though long and sometimes slow moving, the book has considerable merit, particularly for students of women’s literature of the past century.

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-10614-0

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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