A deeply moving meditation on identity and history, the personal and the political, blurring the boundaries between truth...

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A STORM BLEW IN FROM PARADISE

An extraordinary life in exile inspires a multilayered novel.

With perhaps a nod toward Kafka, Swedish novelist Anyuru (They Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears, 2019, etc.) opens on a protagonist named only as P facing his interrogators, who ask him, “Why did you come back?” “Back” is to Africa, where P says he has returned with an offer to fly a crop duster in Zambia. He had left his native Uganda some years earlier to train as a fighter pilot in Greece. After Idi Amin staged his coup in 1971 and began executing some of those who had resisted him, P felt he could not return home. Greece, in the midst of its own political upheaval, said he could no longer fly. He had no home to return to in Africa, no home that would accept him in Europe. His passport had become worse than useless; he feared it might provide evidence against him. He has no idea what those holding him think his crimes might be. They have no idea where his loyalty lies. Perhaps he has no idea where his loyalty lies. “If you disappeared one day, just disappeared, who would miss you?” he was asked. And now he knows that no one would. Until a different narrative perspective enters the novel, a first-person narrator that the reader identifies with the author, an unnamed narrator who says that P is his father and that P has been telling him the stories that have filled the novel, stories that the novelist has perhaps embellished, has certainly recast in his own words. Like the father, the son has no country, no place where the marriage of his Swedish mother and Ugandan father, who are now divorced, makes him feel at home. “I travel between places I try to form into a nation,” says the son. “I think about how I am a tree with its roots pulled up.” In other words, like father, like son. The presence of the son signals to the reader that P survived and escaped, that he lived to become a father, while the son’s story illuminates his father’s final days. As the father’s story progresses forward and the son’s looks backward, they meet in a place filled with “all these stories that try to figure out my origins,” says the son. “There is no history. I just come from here. From this summer, when my father is dying.”

A deeply moving meditation on identity and history, the personal and the political, blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64286-044-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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