RIGHT AND LEFT and THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER

The situation is hopeless but not serious, they used to say in Vienna. The great post-WW I Austrian moralists, Kraus, Musil, Roth, couched the gloomiest judgments in light, entertaining forms. The English-speaking world is just catching up with these modern masters. This, the tenth in Overlook's Roth series, makes a good introduction to his incomparable work. With Stendhalian clarity and brio, with a Balzacian, not to say Marxian, grasp of society's inner workings, in writing that is precise in image and profound but never ponderous, Roth graphed the aftershocks of empires' collapse and the addled lives of sons who lack their fathers' vitality and their hold on simple truths. Right and Left is more malicious than Roth's loving Trotta family saga (The Radetzky March, The Emperor's Tomb) because he's writing about ascendant Germany. With great acuity, he charts the slow metamorphosis of a 1920's Berlin dandy, an Anglophile, into a chemical industry magnate, and the transformation of his proto-Nazi brother into a trendy left-wing journalist. In the post-WW I generation of hollow men, ``right'' and ``left'' are interchangeable, and a taste for culture leads right to the manufacture of poison gas. Pulling the plot-strings here is a fascinating character patterned on Balzac's Vautrin. Nikolai Brandeis has shed his illusions, his vanity, and has only a kind of philanthropic contempt for others. He builds a financial empire and then walks away from it in disgust. His mysterious disappearance on the book's last page suggests that in the age of mass media, the pursuit of truth requires silence, exile, and cunning. The companion piece, Legend of the Holy Drinker, shows a series of small miracles restoring the dignity of a homeless drunk; it breathes a democratic compassion and delicate tact utterly lacking among us. The second of these was Roth's last work, his graceful exit, in 1939, from a world that didn't deserve him. The very British translation is loyal to his light, ironic touch.

Pub Date: May 4, 1992

ISBN: 0-87951-448-5

Page Count: 303

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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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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