A lovely book, and a wonderful revisiting of tales that, told once again, are meant to inspire—well, if not piety, at least...

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ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS

A RETELLING

Elegant, pointed retelling of the classic of medieval Arabian literature by Lebanese novelist and journalist al-Shaykh (The Locust and the Bird, 2009, etc.).

As Sir Richard Burton well knew, the tales that Scheherazade spun in order to keep from having her sultan husband chop off her head were full of erotic moments, explicit and implicit alike. Denatured into fables for children, the tales of Ali Baba, magical caves, flying carpets and Sindbad the sailor lost any such erotic possibilities, which al-Shaykh very gamely restores with the unmistakable conjuring of “[t]he stick, the thing, the pigeon, the panther, the shish kebab, the cock” and dizzying tales of noblewomen ravished by African slaves—in short, the sort of things that ought to find these once-tame stories a whole new audience. It’s not just the sex, but also the sexual violence and mistrust that run like a swift current below the stories. Says one sorrowful shah to his brother early on, “I caught my wife in the arms of one of the kitchen boys in her quarters before I set out to come to you. My anger took control and I avenged myself by slaying both of them and hurling their bodies in a trench, like two dead cockroaches.” It would take an accomplished psychotherapist and dream interpreter to plumb the depths of what al-Shaykh reveals of the relations, as fraught as any in Faulkner, of cloistered women and fearful men and those ever-watchful black slaves. Yet some of what the Arabian storytellers unleashed on their audiences, if we are to trust these versions, is utterly unveiled, as when a young woman tells her sisters, “I have learned a lesson: there is little that is good in marriage.” Readers of a nostalgic bent will be pleased to discover Sindbad in these pages, though a different one from the Sindbad of their youth. As a storyteller reporting Sindbad’s very own account of his adventures relates, “at times I was so terrified that I nearly shat myself.”

A lovely book, and a wonderful revisiting of tales that, told once again, are meant to inspire—well, if not piety, at least more humane behavior toward our fellow adventurers.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-95886-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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