Very flat, though: The author concentrates so thoroughly on the interior world of her two protagonists that it’s difficult...

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WHEN SHE SLEEPS

Elegant if a bit lugubrious story of the odd reunion of a Vietnam vet with his Amerasian daughter.

One of the more enduring legacies of the war in Vietnam are the con lai—half-breed children of American GIs and Vietnamese women. Fifteen-year-old Mai is one of these. Her father, Aaron, was a US Army surgeon who did several tours of duty in Southeast Asia in the early ’60s, while her mother, Linh, was the daughter of a rich and prominent Vietnamese family. Life for the con lai was difficult in the best of times, but it becomes especially hard with the fall of Saigon and the advent of a communist regime that is both anti-bourgeois and anti-American. After enduring a succession of refugee camps and “reeducation” centers, Linh and Mai emigrate to Paris, where they are taken in by relatives. Mai adjusts well to Paris at first, but after Linh sinks into depression and eventually disappears, Mai becomes an insomniac. Meanwhile, Aaron, who’s been living unhappily in Los Angeles with Evelyn and their daughter Lucy, begins searching for Linh and Mai and locates them in Paris. Now a distinguished specialist in sleep disorders, Aaron brings Mai to LA for treatment and introduces her to his family. Evelyn is understandably upset and wants nothing to do with Mai, and Lucy finds the situation difficult to acknowledge as well. Told alternately from the perspectives of Lucy and Mai, Second-novelist Krygier (First the Raven, not reviewed) portrays the tentative steps by which two young women discover and come to terms with their identities and adjust their perceptions of the world and themselves.

Very flat, though: The author concentrates so thoroughly on the interior world of her two protagonists that it’s difficult to see them as real characters moving through real situations.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2004

ISBN: 1-59264-086-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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