Another brilliant installment in Ha Jin’s history of modern China (The Crazed, 2002, etc.), written with his usual...

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WAR TRASH

The Chinese-born American author offers the fictional memoirs (historically based) of a Chinese officer’s difficult years as a POW in the Korean War—and the more difficult return to China after the ceasefire.

Yu Yuan is no one’s idea of a revolutionary, but as an army cadet at the Nationalist military academy in 1949, he greets Mao’s victory over the Nationalist forces with genuine relief, disgusted as he was with the corruption and incompetence of Chiang Kai-shek’s regime. He continues his military career under the Party and is eventually assigned to a “volunteer” unit of Chinese forces supporting the North Koreans against UN forces in the Korean War. Here, after his unit is ambushed, Yuan falls into American hands and is sent to a POW camp on an island off the Korean coast. He is pleasantly surprised to find little of the abuse that Party propaganda had assured the Chinese they would meet at the hands of American captors, but he is subjected to political pressures all the same. The Americans offer the Chinese prisoners a choice of repatriation to either Taiwan or the mainland, thus dividing the camp into Communist and Nationalist factions that fight among themselves. Although not a Communist, Yuan feels bound to return to China for the sake of his mother and fiancée, and this brings down upon him the wrath of the Nationalist prisoners, who go so far as to hold him down and tattoo anti-Communist propaganda on his chest. Even without the tattoo Yuan is a marked man back home, especially when the Cultural Revolution unleashes a pogrom against anyone deemed to have been tainted with Western ideas. But Yuan is canny enough to get by, and, having survived revolution, war, and prison, he manages to outlive the fanatics in the end.

Another brilliant installment in Ha Jin’s history of modern China (The Crazed, 2002, etc.), written with his usual understatement and clarity.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-42276-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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