Despite some clunky political commentary, a gripping meditation on the nature of fear, silence, and survival.

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ABAHN SABANA DAVID

In English for the first time, a 1970 French novel from prolific experimentalist Duras (The Lover, 1984, etc.)

In this brief novel the action is staged like an existentialist thriller, the prose reads like surreal noir, and the crime taking place is genocide. On a cold night in a town called Staadt (identified later as Prague), a Jewish man named Abahn is visited at home by a woman, Sabana, a stonemason, David, and another Jewish man also named Abahn. David has a gun, and Sabana tells the second Abahn that the first Abahn, whom she calls “the Jew,” will die at daybreak thanks to Gringo, the local leader of “the Party.” They spend the night deep in debate about their roles and motivations in the plot to kill Abahn the Jew. As dogs howl outside, the characters sometimes go deaf and blind, speaking while half-asleep about gas chambers, Soviet concentration camps, “the field of death,” and, awkwardly, “the sliding scale of the minimum wage.” Dialogue gets repeated back and forth as if the group is questioning each word’s meaning; their movements are logged meticulously, adding great tension to some scenes, absurdity to others, and translator Ali’s deft touch rendering this unreal environment's slippery fictive power is laudable. Duras positions the book’s moral center as a question of self-awareness, forcing Sabana and David to see how outside forces affect their smallest actions and thoughts: as the second Abahn says to Sabana, “I say if it’s David who pulls the trigger, it’s still Gringo who has killed him.” As gunfire erupts late in the book, David and Sabana must face the temptation to absolve themselves from blame by letting the faceless state take responsibility for their parts in the violence.

Despite some clunky political commentary, a gripping meditation on the nature of fear, silence, and survival.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-36-6

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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