A pleasure to read.

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CELLOPHANE

A debut novel from Washington Post Book World editor Arana (American Chica, 2001) that blends magical realism with matter-of-fact descriptions of things Amazonian.

Like the Peruvian poet César Vallejo’s “Black Stone Lying on a White Stone” and the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Peruvian-American Arana’s narrative opens with an intimation of mortality: Its protagonist, the sonorously named Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua, foresees his death “in a bustling metropolis, surrounded by doting women.” But first he must find an opposite setting, for Don Victor has an obsession with paper. Thus, in 1913, he treks across the Andes to a place that does not appear on any map, the vegetation-choked hamlet of Floralinda, where he founds a papermaking empire. Mad scientist that he is, Don Victor is not satisfied with paper alone, though his obsession endures: He realizes that one can make paper from any plant, and that bit of occult knowledge informs the rest of his life. Still, his larger ambition is to make something else, even greater than the French engineer Gustave Eiffel’s iron building downriver: “To erect an iron house in the Amazon had been spectacular. To produce cellophane in quantities would be a miracle.” His children—one wild, one bookish, one hauntingly beautiful, all a little odd—tolerate Don Victor’s dream, as does his wife, Mariana, at least to some extent. Where they differ, they do so openly, for over much of the narrative, the people of Floralinda are afflicted with a habit of speaking the truth. (The encounter of the village priest with a supposedly possessed and most worldly woman is a stitch.) All that changes, though, when outsiders arrive, one by one: an Australian adventurer, an American mapmaker and eventually the army, after which Don Victor’s world changes, slipping “from cellophane to official parchment.”

A pleasure to read.

Pub Date: June 27, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-33664-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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