Set against the complex, turbulent political and cultural tableau of central Europe, Pehe’s sweeping novel confronts the...



An expansive, multigenerational novel about Western Europe that takes on the big questions.

Besides being a novelist, Pehe is a political analyst and was an adviser to Czech President Václav Havel. This is the second novel in an ambitious trilogy, the first to be translated into English (by Turner). In Wim Wenders’ acclaimed film Wings of Desire, set in West Berlin, unseen angels watch over their human charges. Here, an angel, Ariel, visits three generations of a Czech family, the Brehmes, from the late 19th century to the early 21st. Pehe’s wide-ranging story touches on two world wars, the Holocaust, Soviet expansionism and its demise, ending in New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In the first part, Ariel instructs Joseph Brehme to write a long letter to his mother, who abandoned him when he was 6. It’s 1940; he’s 40 years old. We learn he grew up in “two linguistic worlds” (Czech/German) and studied music and violin in the bustling, creative Prague of Jaroslav Hašek, Max Brod, and Alfons Mucha. He fought in a Czech brigade in 1914 and lost two fingers. Part 2 opens in 1968 during the Prague Spring. Hanna, Joseph’s daughter, is confined to a psychiatric hospital. Under Ariel’s influence, she takes pen to paper to tell her harrowing story of being taken in by Jewish grandparents and hiding to escape the German occupation of Prague. As Hanna writes, “I must…most of all try to explain it.” Her section is highly affecting and well-drawn. The third part, weakest of the three, opens in 2001. Hanna’s son, Alex, a famous, disillusioned American professor, feels Ariel’s influence in the guise of his girlfriend, Leira. His diary completes Pehe’s powerful saga of this Czech family.

Set against the complex, turbulent political and cultural tableau of central Europe, Pehe’s sweeping novel confronts the existential questions concerning God’s existence and man’s brutality to man.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9568890-4-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Jantar Publishing/Dufour

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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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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