Readers might argue that the ending’s a bit weak when compared to the boldness of the rest of the story, but that’s a minor...

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THE FEVER TREE

South Africa’s corrupt and disease-riddled diamond industry in the 1880s serves as a gritty setting for newcomer McVeigh’s historical novel about a young English woman’s journey toward self-enlightenment.

When Frances Irvine’s father dies and leaves her penniless, she reluctantly accepts a distant cousin’s marriage proposal. She considers Dr. Edwin Matthews a cold and unemotional man who’s socially beneath her, but Frances hopes Edwin’s practice in South Africa will one day provide her with the lifestyle to which she’s accustomed. Besides, no one else has volunteered to take her in, except for an aunt who expects Frances to work as a nanny in exchange for lodging. Sharing a small second-class cabin with two other girls, 19-year-old Frances sets sail for her new home, but during the voyage, she falls in love with William Westbrook. She’s convinced he loves her, too, but Frances eventually resigns herself to marrying Edwin when William fails to follow through on their plans to be together after the voyage. When she arrives at her new home, she’s dismayed to discover Edwin lives in a remote area in a hovel. There are few comforts—save for a piano Edwin bought her as a wedding present—and Frances unhappily refuses to adapt to her new life. In fact, Frances views her husband with scorn and doesn’t understand his preoccupation with a smallpox outbreak, which he claims is of epidemic proportion, or his defense of the rights of South African natives who work in the mines; she remains more concerned about the discomfort she faces each day due to her husband’s lack of financial ambition. After they move to Kensington, though, Frances slowly realizes there’s more to her husband than she first assumed, and she discovers that many people respect him, not only for his work as a medical doctor, but as a human rights advocate. Still, she believes that William, not Edwin, represents her path to happiness. Forceful and direct, yet surprisingly lyrical, McVeigh’s narrative weaves top-notch research and true passion for the material with a well-conceived plot.

Readers might argue that the ending’s a bit weak when compared to the boldness of the rest of the story, but that’s a minor issue. Overall, this story’s a gem.

Pub Date: April 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-15824-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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