Too bad the overly packed novel’s repetitiveness may lose some readers because Mazzantini’s depictions of love, maternal and...

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TWICE BORN

The siege of Sarajevo is both subject and backdrop in this multilayered love story from Italian Mazzantini (Don’t Move, 2004, etc.).

Gemma leaves her comfortable apartment in Rome (and her understanding husband Giuliano) to visit Sarajevo with her son Pietro because an exhibit commemorating the siege will include photographs by Pietro’s father Diego. Sixteen years earlier, Gemma escaped war-torn Sarajevo with infant Pietro while Diego remained behind and later died. Now as middle-aged Gemma uses the visit to repair her relationship with Pietro, whose extreme adolescent disaffection has unnerved her, she also confronts her youthful past. Graduate student Gemma first met and fell in love with Diego, a bohemian photographer from Genoa, while visiting Sarajevo in the 1980s. Poet and Sarajevo tourist guide Gojko, himself more than half in love with Gemma, threw the two together. After many upheavals, including Gemma’s marriage and divorce from a conventional Roman businessman, the two lovers found passionate, if temporary happiness. They desperately wanted children, but Gemma learned she could not conceive, and Diego’s police record ruled out adoption as an option. They decided to look for a surrogate. While they were back in Sarajevo on what they thought would be a vacation, Gojko put them in touch with a young musician named Aska who wanted money to escape. Unfortunately, the unrest was beginning by then and the doctor they paid to implant the eggs disappeared. Gemma pushed Diego and Aska to conceive “naturally” but then was besieged by guilt and jealousy—just as Sarajevo was besieged and torn apart; Mazzantini brings the Bosnian civil war to violent life. Looking back, Gemma still wonders if she exchanged Diego for her baby. Only now, learning the truth of Pietro’s conception, does she begin to understand the full magnitude of loss that occurred, and the horror as well as the redemptive power of love.

Too bad the overly packed novel’s repetitiveness may lose some readers because Mazzantini’s depictions of love, maternal and romantic, are powerfully raw.

Pub Date: May 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02268-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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