A striking debut that reveals the breadth of emotional disconnection that prejudice can stoke within a family.

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OLDER BROTHER

A tale of two French brothers of Syrian descent, one struggling as a rideshare driver, the other back in the Middle East on a (maybe) humanitarian mission.

Guven’s first book, winner of the 2017 Prix Goncourt for a debut novel, is a sharp prodigal-son tale about life on the margins outside of Paris. The “older brother” of the title has grown wise to the ways Muslims like himself are treated in a suburb he calls “the dump of France,” scraping out a living as an Uber driver and occasional police informant, roles that leave him feeling exploited; but his father, a widower and old-line taxi driver, feels that anything is better than his native Syria, which tends to stoke rants about civil war and religion. The “younger brother,” a hospital nurse, has disappeared to the Middle East, "likely right there with the lunatics, at war, on his way to death.” The younger brother weighs in on his fate in alternating chapters, explaining how his urge to make use of his medical skills brought him into, yes, Syria, where he works as a field medic supporting rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The younger brother is also disillusioned with France, where, despite the inclusive rhetoric after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Muslims are “less-than-zeros in a society that teaches about equality and tolerance and respect,” and Guven’s novel is largely an exploration of how a shared fury at marginalization can play out in a variety of ways. Kover’s translation highlights the brothers’ differing temperaments: The older one’s street-wise, sarcastic, and jaded, the younger’s more naïve but spiritually righteous. The older brother suspects the younger has returned, prompting his concern that he’s been radicalized. Guven withholds whether that surmise is correct, giving the novel a thriller-ish vibe in its closing pages, but at heart it’s a contemplative story about what siblings owe each other.

A striking debut that reveals the breadth of emotional disconnection that prejudice can stoke within a family.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60945-549-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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