Adams runs the gamut from farce to horror. If her reach occasionally exceeds her grasp, that detracts only minimally from a...

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HARBOR

One of America’s oldest stories, the immigrant adventure, is magically new in this stunning debut about Algerians in Boston.

Aziz is 24, “a feather of a man,” but strong and resourceful enough to have survived 52 days as a stowaway in the hold of a tanker. Now, despite badly burned feet, he is swimming for dear life in Boston Harbor. In his first days on land he will bounce from some Egyptians, total strangers, to his one hometown contact, Rafik, to the hospital for foot surgery, and back to Rafik’s seedy one-bedroom apartment, shared by the latter’s American girlfriend and three other Algerians. America is a confusing hubbub for Aziz, yet it has the charm of a blank slate, this “pretty new nothing.” The pressure doesn’t let up as Aziz works like a dog to pay off those hospital bills, while navigating around Rafik (a liar who fences stolen merchandise, including bomb-making materials), learning English, and figuring out American body language. While Aziz remains the protagonist, the story fans out to include his kid brother Mourad (the lucky devil won a green card) and another stowaway, the charismatic go-getter Ghazi, whose scruples about Rafik lead him and Aziz to check out his storage locker, a move that will have dire repercussions. Through flashbacks, Adams, a veteran Washington Post reporter, makes brave forays into Algeria and its blood-soaked, byzantine factional strife, so we can understand why Aziz, fending off both the army and a band of murderous Islamists that abducted him, ran from the killing fields. Through it all, Aziz preserves an essential innocence, so it’s bitterly ironic that he becomes the prime suspect of a stumbling FBI task force trying to destroy an alleged terrorist cell. There’ll be no mercy for the innocent, but Rafik and his accomplice will somehow slip through the net.

Adams runs the gamut from farce to horror. If her reach occasionally exceeds her grasp, that detracts only minimally from a fine success.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4233-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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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