A well-told story about finding new beginnings in the aftermath of defeat.

The Man Who Walked Out Of Isabelle

Bourg’s debut novel takes an epic look at French defeat in Vietnam and the entwined lives of the locals, soldiers and foreign nationals trying to survive in unstable times.

Max Kohl, a German and a career soldier who grew up indoctrinated in the Hitler Youth, now finds himself in the French Foreign Legion. In 1954, he walks out of Isabelle, a remote area of the Dien Bien Phu province. Loc, a Tai who has sided with the French, leads Max out of the mountainous battlefield after the French are defeated by the Vietminh. The two become infamous and inseparable, navigating post-colonialism in Saigon and Laos. Max decides to no longer blindly follow the causes of those who employ him; instead, he leads his life by repaying the loyalty of others and protecting those he cares about. Max and Loc cross paths with Petru Rossi, a Corsican gangster focused on keeping his interests in the opium trade. Also in the opium and information business is CIA agent Tom Roche, who works with Max to help a mountain tribe escape to Laos. In turn, Max helps the Americans solidify their place in Vietnam through covert missions and violent encounters. In another third-person perspective, the book also follows Mei, who becomes a concubine for the French troops after being sold into prostitution by her father. Loc briefly crosses paths with Mei in Dien Bien Phu but isn’t reunited with her until after she is released from a communist labor camp. Bourg provides a detailed account of the battle that marks the fall of France in Vietnam as well as Max and Loc’s journey out of Isabelle. Many situations and characters are introduced, which Bourg capably manages, and character development is strong, particularly for a novel this heavily rooted in action. Most compellingly, Max changes from a hardened hired soldier to a loyal member of his makeshift family with Loc and Mei.

A well-told story about finding new beginnings in the aftermath of defeat.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9910076-0-8

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Three Greyhounds

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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