A masterwork of political satire, meaningful without heavy-handedness.

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CHINA DREAM

How do you make sure everyone’s on board with the program in a totalitarian state? In Ma’s (The Dark Road, 2013, etc.) imaginative telling, you make sure they share the same dream.

Ma Daode has it easy: Director of the China Dream Bureau, he has a bathroom off his office, gets suggestive texts from multiple women, makes good money, and sports a “pot belly compressed into large rolls of fat.” He’s got big plans to insinuate the “China Dream” into the minds of everyone in a provincial city and then into the nation at large, replacing private dreams with a shared Party-approved vision. Yet, as the author lets us know from the start, Ma Daode is subject to memories that trouble his sleep and come faster as his plans for dream domination take shape. Ma Daode, it develops, was a young conscript in the Cultural Revolution, a teenager who got caught up in violence and trouble that soon settled on his own family. As the China Dream project takes its twists and turns, melding Chinese traditional thought with Marxism, it seems increasingly absurd. Yet, swamped by memories from the past, Ma Daode urges himself to “hurry up and make the China Dream Device so that all these bloody nightmares can be erased,” though a wise interlocutor warns of one particular turning point in the struggle, “Well, if you want to forget that night, you’ll have to wipe out the entire Cultural Revolution, I’m afraid.” That seems just fine to Ma Daode, and though his colleagues think it a pipe dream, he presses on with his dream device while remembering the sight of long-ago corpses that “lay there for days, growing purple and swollen like rotten aubergines." As Ma, a dissident writer living in exile in London, makes plain, there’s no escape from the past, and trying to do so guarantees a messy future: “utopias always lead to dystopias, and dictators invariably become gods who demand daily worship.”

A masterwork of political satire, meaningful without heavy-handedness.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-240-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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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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