Fiction with a strong moral edge, offering a Rashomon-like response to a classic novel.

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THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION

The nameless Arab victim of Albert Camus’ The Stranger receives a biography and a name in this thoughtful, controversial rejoinder from the other side of the colonial question.

“Musa, Musa, Musa…I like to repeat that name from time to time so it doesn’t disappear.” So writes Algerian novelist Daoud, whose protagonist returns Camus’ favor by skirting around the name and facts of his most famous book, except to complain that Musa is destined to “remain ‘the Arab’ forever.” Meursault, Camus' murderer, is long dead, and so, of course, is Musa. Unlike Meursault’s mother, though, Musa’s is alive—ancient but alive—and still trying to get recognition as the progenitor of a martyr in the cause of Algerian independence. Alas, the bureaucracy is even more indifferent than Meursault. As for the brother/narrator, he’s a barroom kvetcher and keeper of grudges who, like Meursault, can barely be moved to stir—until one day, some accident of fate compels him to act, finally, and take his lumps for it. The parallels between Meursault and him are numerous, and though the mood of Daoud’s slender novel, originally published in French in 2013, is more plaintive, it is also grudgingly respectful toward its predecessor: “A masterpiece, my friend. A mirror held up to my soul and to what would become of me in this country, between Allah and ennui.” It is for his sly insertions of religious questioning that Daoud has come under fire in his native country, having been the recent subject of a fatwa for venturing to suggest, in the final chapter, that the proper business of humankind is to tend to life on the mortal plane. Free-speech advocates may want to praise the author for his daring view on that matter, but this novel is praiseworthy enough as it stands.

Fiction with a strong moral edge, offering a Rashomon-like response to a classic novel.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59051-751-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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