Uneven dramatization of America's technological triumph at the expense of her ideals.



Preachy and grandly tragic portrait of the artist as a young A-bomb-maker.

Lanky, unquestionably brilliant US atom bomb scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, long a fictional model for geniuses evil, good, and merely misunderstood, gets an elegiac treatment here. We meet him on the desolate banks of the Rio Grande, on the site of the future Los Alamos labs, seeking solace and healing air for his tubercular lungs. A figure of dreamy, doomed complexity, with an avowed Marxist wife (who soon lets motherhood quell her revolutionary passions), Oppenheimer, a Berkeley physics professor with an obsession to understand the world through scholarship, soon lets his mystical appreciation of nature, his righteous loathing of the Nazi war machine, and his fierce desire to be the mensch his immigrant family wanted, lead him not only to create the ghastliest symbol of technological hubris, but to suffer through the betrayal of colleagues and the humiliation of Red-baiting investigations that ultimately damn him as an untrustworthy security risk. Expatriate Thackara's (The Book of Kings, 1999, etc.) fictional retelling of gee-whiz brainstorming sessions with Fermi, Bethe, and the diabolical Teller, and of science-for-science's-sake conflicts with the bluntly crude General Leslie Groves, have moments of excitement, culminating in the weirdly beautiful horror of the Point Zero test explosion. There's a great story here to tell, but through struggling to wring every irony and bitter truth from somewhat stilted scenes, and through being lugubriously fascinated with Oppenheimer's capacity for suffering, Thackara pads his telling with windy explications and clumsy Creative Writing prose (" . . . in the acute relief of letting himself be caught up in their pride for him . . . Robert suddenly knew what he must do").

Uneven dramatization of America's technological triumph at the expense of her ideals.

Pub Date: March 15, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-111-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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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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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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