Dizzying and prescient.

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IN SEARCH OF KLINGSOR

A search for one of Hitler’s masterminds frames a demanding dissertation on the role of science in the horrors of the 20th century: the US debut of an author of nine previous novels and currently the director of the Mexican Culture Institute in Paris:

Narrator Gustav Links begins by noting that the book he’s speaking in, classified as fiction, is nonfiction. He thus raises the first of hundreds of questions posed here about the purpose, nature, and reliability of facts, causality, and, ultimately, of truth itself. Links recounts the biography of Francis Bacon, who, after WWII, was a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Measured and repressed, Bacon compares most of life, including lovemaking and plans for marriage, to theorems and hypotheses. Then Bacon’s supervisor sends him to Europe to find a man named Klingsor, the alleged plotter of many of Hitler’s evil deeds, including Germany’s attempt to master nuclear warfare. Links is Bacon’s link, as it were, to scientists who may have known Klingsor, or, indeed, may be posing as Klingsor. From their recollections there emerge no clues to Klingsor’s whereabouts, nor any unifying vision of modern science—the scientist’s opposing theories in fact form a maddening labyrinth. Further complicating the search are Links’s and Bacon’s romantic entanglements. Witty and compelling, the personal histories suggest that passion, envy, and revenge annihilate empirical thought. Links recalls the mad affair he had with his wife and the wife of a childhood friend, whom he despised for selling out to the Nazis. Bacon becomes involved with Irene, a Russian spy who detests Links. She burns Bacon’s ear with suggestions that Links is actually Klingsor. A besotted Bacon follows her line of “reason.” Finally, as it becomes apparent that Links has spent the past four decades in a sanitarium, the veracity of his entire account disintegrates. A wise Volpi offers no way out of his dark maze.

Dizzying and prescient.

Pub Date: July 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-0118-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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