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

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

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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