If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of this wonderful novel will surely enjoy perfect health for...



A planned political assassination is the central subject of this delightful 1997 novel, the third to reach English translation from its award-winning, highly popular Polish author (The Mighty Angel, 2009, etc.).

It begins with a killer first sentence (no giveaway here) announcing the master plan concocted by two of Pilch’s three protagonists: to travel from their tiny village (Wisla) to Warsaw and murder Worker’s (i.e., Communist ) Party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. The conspirators are the father of teenaged narrator Jerzyk, a retired postal administrator, and his ebullient comrade Mr. Traba, a defrocked clergyman, devout boozehound and would-be patriot and liberator. In fact, Mr. T. is a man of talk—and wonderful, self-important, loony palaver his emotional harangues are, echoing the accents of Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby (as European critics have noted), with cacophonous grace notes reminiscent of Voltaire and Rabelais. Meanwhile, we’re made privy to the secret thoughts of reluctant fellow anarchist Jerzyk, who’s more interested in lusting after a pair of lissome upstairs boarders, while simultaneously laboring to dream chastely of the older girl he declares “the angel of my first love,” and enduring female reproofs which warn him that “Amorousness combined with erotic illiteracy is a dangerous combination.” Mr. T.’s sinister plot (which involves the use of a Chinese crossbow) occasions spirited debate among such blissfully eccentric neighbors as a loquacious sexton who admires the interminable historical novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz and a feisty pastor who considers the question whether Catholics or Protestants make the best assassins. All is eventually rationalized as needed, Jerzyk’s itches remain mostly unscratched, and The World Goes On.

If laughter actually is the best medicine, fortunate readers of this wonderful novel will surely enjoy perfect health for the rest of their days.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-934824-27-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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