An ambitious, sometimes-illuminating tale set against political unrest in Burma.

READ REVIEW

WOLF

A NOVEL OF LOVE AND BETRAYAL

A literary novel tells the story of a Burmese revolutionary trying to escape his enemies.

Burma, 1988. Famous student revolutionary Mothi Awegoke is on the run from intelligence agents for his role in the demonstrations against the country’s military junta. As he flees through the streets of Rangoon, he is almost run over by a white Mercedes, but the young woman inside it recognizes him and offers him a ride. After concealing him for a few days, the woman, Thuzar, arranges for Mothi to be smuggled out of the city on a ship. When he asks how he will find Thuzar again, once things settle down, she tells him it will be she who locates him: “You always think you can blend in with the crowd and you are so inconspicuous. But you blend in about as well as a true pigeon blood ruby in the mud. You positively glow. You’ll never sink in muck. Of that I am certain. You’ll always be famous and not difficult to find. You’ll see.” Her words prove prophetic, as Mothi’s fight to bring democracy to Burma takes him across the country into Thailand and, eventually, America. As he travels, seeing the lives of the people who help him along the way, he remembers the events of his youth that spurred him to political activism. Kaung’s (The Rohingya Genocide in Burma, 2017, etc.) prose is highly detailed, capturing life under Communist rule in startling images: “Inn Inn’s high-heeled slippers fell apart when it rained because they were reinforced with cardboard. She had bought three pairs because she thought it was a good price and she might not see them again. When the first pair dissolved, she wore the other slippers only during the dry season.” Mothi is a flawed, sometimes-infuriating character, and the story is likewise idiosyncratic in its structure and pacing. But the work is wonderfully specific, and its blend of history, politics, and episodes feels organic and somehow appropriate. It’s a novel that works through accumulation—it’s nearly 500 pages—but at the end of it, readers will feel they have an intimate understanding of this character and his country.

An ambitious, sometimes-illuminating tale set against political unrest in Burma.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4792-0388-8

Page Count: 484

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more