Jacobson’s account of a life of “jokes, Jews, bitterness, and whys” is clever, celebratory, condemnatory, excessive,...

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KALOOKI NIGHTS

A scorching disquisition on (British) Jewish identity, spun from an unspeakable criminal act.

Jacobson’s ninth novel (The Making of Henry, 2004, etc.) makes powerfully relevant use of his trademark ferocious wit and excoriating commentary. His narrator is cartoonist Max Glickman, who grew up in central England in the 1950s, the son of a Jew who was both a boxing enthusiast and an atheist, sick and tired of the whole business of Jewishness. Together with his Holocaust-obsessed friend Manny Washinsky, the neurotic son of Orthodox parents, Max planned a series of books to change the world, starting with Five Thousand Years of Bitterness, “a comic-book history of the sufferings of the Jewish people over the last five millennia.” But the boys grew up and went their separate ways, Max to art school and three unsuccessful marriages (two to shiksahs), Manny to prison for murder. Their reunion, decades later, financed by a television company interested in Manny’s story, is the impetus for Max’s sprawling web of a memoir. His attempts to understand Manny’s actions are expressed in a narrative that is part comic history, part tirade, part lacerating analysis of the nature of Jewishness and its terrible parasite, anti-Semitism. Affectionate memories of kalooki nights, when his mother played cards with her Jewish friends, and of his father’s circle of free-thinking intellectuals, are contrasted with outrageously sardonic observations on his race and its sufferings. “We are a self-defeating, self-disgusted, self-eviscerating people, but we couldn’t have got there without outside help,” says Max, whose self-hatred comes in many forms, including erotic fantasies about Ilse Koch, the bitch of Buchenwald. The explanation for Manny’s actions, when it comes, is an attempt at wrapping up the entire, intricate dilemma of Jewish heritage.

Jacobson’s account of a life of “jokes, Jews, bitterness, and whys” is clever, celebratory, condemnatory, excessive, overwhelming and unique.

Pub Date: April 3, 2007

ISBN: 1-4165-4342-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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