A fine work of art about the blurry line between truth and artifice.

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THE SHAPE OF THE RUINS

A novelist becomes embroiled in conspiracy theories surrounding political assassinations in his native Colombia.

Vásquez’s fifth novel in English (Reputations, 2016, etc.) is a Paul Auster–style intellectual thriller, built on one part violence and two parts history- and irony-soaked interrogation of authorship. The narrator is also a novelist named Juan Gabriel Vásquez, who makes the acquaintance of Francisco, a doctor with a sideline studying and collecting artifacts of Colombian history, such as the 1948 assassination of politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. For instance, Francisco owns an X-ray of Gaitán’s bullet-ridden chest and a piece of his vertebra in formaldehyde in a jar, both counterweights to truthers who believe he had more than one assassin—truthers like Francisco’s friend Carlos, who so exasperates Juan Gabriel with his ahistorical riffs on 9/11, JFK, and Gaitán that the author flings a whiskey glass in his face. What kind of person gets so ridiculously obsessed with such contrarianism? But how ridiculous is it, exactly? Vásquez’s goal is to better understand such thinking, and the novel is largely a study of another political assassination, of political figure Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914. Officially, Uribe was crudely murdered by a pair of angry tradesmen acting alone. But Juan Gabriel's investigation leads him to a lawyer who at the time was exploring a deeper (and not-untenable) plot, distilling his findings into articles and a book. Was he mocked for lack of evidence or something more? A person’s “noblest task” is to “thwart a lie the size of the world,” Carlos tells Juan Gabriel, and the novel captures the questionable seductiveness of the job: This book, by design, is immersive in the way quicksand is, pulling the reader in directions often best resisted. Like any conspiracy theory, it’s overly thick with information, but Vásquez successfully gives it a novelistic shape.

A fine work of art about the blurry line between truth and artifice.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1114-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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