Take their word for it, then: it’s literature. For sure it’s European, and it’s of much interest to literary readers and...

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BEST EUROPEAN FICTION 2016

Latest installment in an annual anthology, now in its sixth edition, running the continent from Austria to Wales.

What is literature? That’s the subject of Norwegian writer Jon Fosse’s rather glancing preface, which mostly settles, and then arguably, on what literature is not: it’s not crime fiction; even though crime is about death and the subject of literature at its heart “is death, what it means to die,” literature is too bespoke to admit the mass market. Or something like that. The collection is silent as to the criteria for getting into it, but presumably what we have here is literature. Much of it is about death, in any event. The more pertinent question, perhaps, is: what is the difference between European and American literature? (And why no Iceland, home of ponies and Nobel Prize winners? Why no Russia?) That’s the subject for someone’s doctoral dissertation, but for the moment, suffice it to say that most American writers would not have a protagonist who was moved by the prospect of taking a bus in the morning so that he could have time “just to read Nietzsche.” For Moldovan writer Ion Buzu, by way of his story “Another Piss in Nisporeni,” though, it’s business as usual, and if the diction is a little odd to American ears (“Nyah, loser, screw off!”), the rueful story is a revelation. Just so, most American tales are not as historically and politically charged as Latvian writer Mara Zalite’s “The Major and the Candy,” a Gogol-esque yarn about a sodden encounter between the KGB and erstwhile evacuees from the Baltic. No one dies there, but the possibility is palpable. And death is in the offing, too, in Huw Lawrence’s soulful vignette of ordinary Welsh life, “Restocking,” in which one character meaningfully says, “Nobody is lying in a coffin all day, not even in the Council Tax Offices.”

Take their word for it, then: it’s literature. For sure it’s European, and it’s of much interest to literary readers and writers on this side of the pond.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62897-114-9

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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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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