SHOSHA

A NOVEL

The threat of Nazi occupation throws a fence up around this story of Jewish Warsaw in the Thirties, locking it into patterns of blind dailyness and a sweet, enduring, ultimately fatal foolishness: "so long as Hitler didn't attack, so long as no revolution or pogrom erupted, each day was a gift from God." Singer's familiarly autobiographical writer-protagonist here is named Aaron Greidinger, born Hasidic but rapidly secularized into Warsaw Yiddish literary life and a youth of abundant womanizing. His two main amours are absolutely polar. Betty Slonim, an American actress who's trying to triumph on the Yiddish stage with the backing of her rich sugardaddy Sam Dreiman, can offer Aaron a chance to be famous, to write a play for her, and, best of all, a way out of Poland before the Holocaust comes sweeping down upon them all. But Shosha, Aaron's childhood ghetto friend—a barely matured, runty girl who can't read or write and hardly knows how to even shop in the market—is Aaron's perverse choice. Shosha has a demon who tells her "that God is a chimney sweep, and that when we marry I will wet the bed. He butted me with his horns." She asks simple (and simple-minded) questions about the dead, about sin, about retribution. Since no one else is asking these utterly apt questions—neither the religious nor the literary folks—Shosha is a sort of feeble prophetess; the Warsaw sophisticates look on Hitler as proof of the Messiah's imminent arrival—they believe that things are so bad that they have to get dramatically, redeemingly better. We know they didn't, and Singer knows it, which is maybe why the book seems a little quilty, episodic, short-storyish; history does the bulk of the fictional work here, being the bully, the plot, the denouement. Shosha herself comes off unclearly, unparticularized, as are the rest of the characters except for Aaron/Singer. We miss the vividness, the claustrophobia of superior Singer; indubitably, upsettingly true, the story seems capped—and handicapped—with Destiny.

Pub Date: July 12, 1978

ISBN: 0374524807

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1978

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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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