Fans of W.P. Kinsella, sports history nuts and anyone drawn to prewar popular culture should sprint for this book. It’s a...

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ALL THE STARS CAME OUT THAT NIGHT

Mingling fictional characters with real-life notables of the age, King joyfully concocts a Depression-era tale of a secret baseball game between the best white baseball players and their black counterparts.

“Flush with $25,000 from his first kidnapping, John Henry Sealund headed east to Chicago.” This is how we meet the first of two laugh-out-loud funny knuckleheads (the other being one James Atwood) who bumble their way into a world of movie stars, gossip mavens and the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Negro League legend Satchel Paige wants money; Henry Ford wants to prove the white (and non-Jewish) race is superior; Shoeless Joe Jackson wants his long-denied shot at redemption; some kid from the Pacific League named DiMaggio wants to prove himself; Babe Ruth wants another hot dog; and all the players want a chance to square off against their doppelgängers, whom they’re prohibited from playing in the pre–Jackie Robinson era. As the organizers put their teams together and move toward game day, King spins glorious set pieces, including a Hollywood party attended by George Burns, Carole Lombard and gossip columnist Walter Winchell—who narrates the novel from the grave—at which a pie fight breaks out. King’s exuberant tone is pitch-perfect, and his dialogue is sharp: Standing on the pitcher’s mound, Dizzy Dean tells switch-hitter Cool Papa Bell, “Cool, the day you hit a homer off me will be a day that don’t end in a ‘y.’ ”) There’s also wonderful period detail, such as Paige’s catcher putting a beefsteak in his mitt to cushion Satch’s bone-breaking fastballs.

Fans of W.P. Kinsella, sports history nuts and anyone drawn to prewar popular culture should sprint for this book. It’s a bracing, bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2005

ISBN: 0-525-94905-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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