One of the world’s great writers continues his steady march toward a Nobel Prize.

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SIEGFRIED

An “explanation” for the evil committed by Adolf Hitler is the quarry of this searching, somewhat discursive new (2001) novel from the internationally acclaimed Dutch author.

The obviously partially autobiographical protagonist is Rudolf Herter, a prominent Dutch novelist who at the story’s outset arrives in Vienna to give a public reading at the National Library and a lengthy television interview. Herter is thereafter contacted by Ulrich and Julia Falk, an elderly Austrian couple, who have heard the author speculate to his TV interviewer that the enigma of Hitler might be approached by making the dictator a character in a fictional “fantasy” not specifically related to the Fuhrer’s own history. The Falks have a real story to tell: that they worked for Hitler at his Bavarian retreat Berchtesgaden and were commanded to raise as their own son the eponymous child of Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun. Mulisch (The Procedure, 2001, etc.) handles this explosive premise with great skill, moving artfully from the Falkses’ hesitant, guilty disclosures to the unraveling of Herter’s certainties about his own rationality. The suggestion of a soulless “black hole” impervious to comprehension grinds painfully against the novelist’s impulse to tame and order chaotic human behavior, in a synthesis of ideas not notably inferior to that presented in Mulisch’s unruly 1996 masterpiece, The Discovery of Heaven (alluded to slyly here as Herter’s major work, The Invention of Love). Suspense is maintained even when the tale grows meditative or talky, and Mulisch plays expertly with readers’ expectations in its final sequence, which presents revealing excerpts from a diary of Eva Braun’s that is perhaps authentic, perhaps Rudolf Herter’s crowning, compromising “invention.” Few if any other living novelists could make such potentially intractable material so thrillingly dramatic and provocative.

One of the world’s great writers continues his steady march toward a Nobel Prize.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03253-0

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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