Evocative, original exploration of grief—more of a journey than a destination, with plot almost beside the point.

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MANAZURU

In this debut novel from Japanese writer Kawakami, a Tokyo woman coping with the mysterious loss of her husband finds herself suddenly drawn to a small fishing village.

Kei, the 40-something narrator of this dreamlike novel, has made a life for herself that appears solid, even as her thoughts show it is anything but. A writer, she shares an apartment with her mother and an increasingly distant teenage daughter named Momo. She is also in a long-term relationship with a married man, Seiji, who actually seems more into Kei than she into him. That could be because 12 years earlier Rei, the man she loved, vanished, leaving her and Momo alone. What role, if any, Kei had in his disappearance remains vague, as if Kei herself is unsure of it. Was it another woman? Foul play? Either way, she has on some level shut herself off emotionally. Feeling restless one day, however, she spontaneously gets on a train and ends up in Manazuru, a sleepy seaside burg. There she feels herself “followed” by spiritlike presences and not for the first time. One of these apparitions, a chatty woman, seems especially interested in Kei. Kei in turn wonders if this spirit can help her uncover whatever happened to Rei and maybe even contact him on the other side. Whether or not the spirit woman is real, or a part of Kei’s subconscious, remains a central question. Kei keeps going back, and her buried memories of Rei blend with disturbing and beautiful visions. And it soon becomes clear, as Kei is drawn deeper and deeper into this quest for closure, that she runs the risk of losing herself—as well as the people who care most for her. Subtly compelling, Kawakami’s novel interestingly blends whodunit, travelogue and a dash of tasteful eroticism.

Evocative, original exploration of grief—more of a journey than a destination, with plot almost beside the point.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58243-600-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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