Sprawling and slow, of interest mainly to those with a knowledge of the arcane history of French colonization.



Rufin’s third (The Siege of Isfahan, 2001, etc.) is based on the French colonization of Brazil, which inspired Montaigne’s essay “On Cannibalism” and his “myth of the noble savage.”

In 1555, Just and Colombe, orphaned brother and sister, are sent on an expedition to Brazil because it’s believed that they, being children, will learn the natives’ language quickly and become translators or “go-betweens.” The two think they’re setting sail to find their father, a heroic fighter named Clamorgan. Onboard ship, Colombe becomes “Colin” and is treated as a boy, while Just starts fighting and is locked in the brig. Colombe appeals to the expedition’s leader, Admiral Villegagnon, who, it turns out, knew their father and appoints Colombe and Just his aides-de-camp. When the expedition reaches Guanabara Bay (named Rio de Janeiro by the Portuguese 50 years before), it is met by a Norman go-between who has settled among the cannibalistic Indians and is eager to provide the new settlers with alcohol and women. But Villegagnon soon sets strict rules—no more alcohol, women and men must be married—which lead to revolt. Colombe, to learn the language, is sent into Indian land, where the women recognize her sex and introduce her to their customs. She’s drawn to their sensuality and spirituality. Villegagnon invites disciples of Calvin to bring marriageable young women to colonize this area of Brazil, hoping to fend off the Portuguese. But the Huguenots, when they arrive, are even stricter than the Catholics. The two factions split, the Huguenots head back to Europe, and the stage is set for the War of Religions, which breaks out on Villegagnon’s return to France. In Brazil, Just stays on as governor of “Antarctic France,” and Colombe, who continues to build her relationships with the Indians, becomes the successor to their revered European leader, Pai-Lo.

Sprawling and slow, of interest mainly to those with a knowledge of the arcane history of French colonization.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-05207-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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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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