Raises questions but lacks satisfying conclusions, which is apparently the point.

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THE BREAKING OF EGGS

In this first novel from British author Powell, the sale of self-described leftist and ex-communist Feliks Zhukovski's life work, a travel guide to Eastern Europe, precipitates sweeping late-life changes. 

The American company that offers Feliks a sumptuous sum for his guide won't be keeping him on in any sort of advisory capacity—his work reads like Eastern Bloc propaganda, and, as he sells the guide, the Soviet Union is becoming history. Feliks, oddly robotic and unemotional, is perpetually perplexed—a bachelor who seems never really to have experienced life, nor, as he realizes in his 60s as a chronic traveler, the concept of home, despite his having maintained an apartment in Paris. His first visit to America to sell his guide to a New York publishing house becomes an opportunity to meet a long-lost brother, Woodrow, from whom he was separated as a youth when their Polish mother shipped her sons off just as the Nazis prepared to invade. Fissures develop in Feliks' emotionless façade. He begins to entertain the possibility that his dislike of Capitalism and the West may not be as soundly founded as he had thought, and, overcome with emotion with regards to Woodrow and the fate of the mother they have been unable to locate for 25 years, he undergoes a process of ideological apostasy. Back in Paris, with time and money on his hands, he obtains his mother's last address. He also pursues leads on the one bona fide romance of his long, dry life. The narrative's inertia and twists, not to mention Feliks' dry sense of humor superimposed against a geographical and historical backdrop, often make for funny and compelling reading. But Feliks' obsessive reassessment of his politics, spurred by realizations of the untruths and injustices on which they were based, slows to a sometimes sentimental picaresque populated by flat characters acting as foils for his interior monologue.

Raises questions but lacks satisfying conclusions, which is apparently the point.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-14-311726-1

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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