With delightful plays of voice and structure, this is literary fiction at an adventurous, experimental high point.

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I HOTEL

An overstuffed, multiform swirl of a novel about a decade in the life of San Francisco’s Chinatown and, by extension, the Asian experience in America.

Yamashita (Circle K Cycles, 2001, etc.) blends prose, theater and art into this set of related novellas centered on a shabby residential hotel. The story opens on the Lunar New Year of 1968. Says her narrator, “Now we know the Vietnamese call it Tet, but the Chinese own it: New Year, they call it,” a time in Vietnam as in Chinatown of explosions, bright lights and revolutionary fervor. Vietnam haunts young Paul, who worries about dying there even as he prepares for his father’s funeral; by Chinese reckoning, he is too young to take his place at the head of the family, but not to be swept up into a faraway conflict. Paul take his cues from Chen, a Mao- and Gertrude Stein–quoting collector of postcards, and from alternative journalist Edmund, who covers the foment over whether to establish an ethnic-studies program at the university and declare Chinese New Year a holiday in the local school system. The ’60s shade into the ’70s, and Yamashita’s prose gives way to blocks of play-like dialogue complete with set directions (“Raucous laughter. sound of James Brown: “Like a Sex Machine”), as new characters come onto the stage that is the I Hotel, representing many ethnicities: a Filipino American farm workers’ union activist; a Japanese American organizer who turns a sweatshop into the I-Hotel Cooperative Garment Factory, its machines “whirring with industry and purpose”; a burly Samoan who escapes being busted for illegally fishing by telling a warden, “See this tattoo?…This is my hunting license.” Elements of the picaresque and the satirical play against passages that are almost documentary as the characters struggle to keep the hotel from being gentrified—and to keep the revolution alive in a time when just about everyone seems tired of politics.

With delightful plays of voice and structure, this is literary fiction at an adventurous, experimental high point.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-56689-239-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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