An exploration of contemporary Taiwan through the lens of the past, this novel hits many poignant notes as it threads its...

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THE LOST GARDEN

Yinghong, a Taiwanese woman, struggles with an all-consuming love for a magnetic businessman while remembering her gentle, unconventional father, who was imprisoned for dissident views.

In this novel, originally published in 1990, Ang (The Butcher’s Wife, 1983, etc.) contrasts a naïve young girl's relationship with her protective, kindly father and her later sexual obsession with a much colder man. Ang sketches both men clearly. Yinghong’s father, Zhu Zuyan, validates and encourages his timid daughter, helping her acquire knowledge fitting for a member of a gentry family. Lin Xigeng, on the other hand, is a regular in the seamy world of Taiwan nightlife and is headstrong and materialistic. He represents the new Taiwan, one economically on the move, while Zhu was caught up in the violent repression of the early days of Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. Yinghong suffers a lasting trauma when she sees her father abducted by brutish soldiers. Zhu is returned to the family because of his poor health and takes refuge in the Lotus Garden of the book’s title, which Ang renders in delicate, often compelling detail that also occasionally bogs the narrative down. Once the back-and-forth, past-to-present structure of the book is established, it begins to feel as if the flashbacks are mostly desultory episodes rather than events that develop the characters’ qualities. But in Zhu, Ang has created a character the reader genuinely cares about—we feel his warmth and intelligence, and Yinghong’s great love for him makes sense. Still, it’s the present-day story that seems more intriguing. Ang circles around it tantalizingly, describing Yinghong’s dreamy fall into erotic obsession with delicate precision and creating suspense with implications that Lin is a far darker character than he at first appears. This suspense doesn’t entirely pay off, and though the novel's separate elements aren't always woven into a satisfying whole, they're often written with such grace that they offer incidental pleasures. Lin is superb at writing sex scenes, and there are many in this book. She is also a keen observer of plant life.

An exploration of contemporary Taiwan through the lens of the past, this novel hits many poignant notes as it threads its way.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-231-17554-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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