Vivid characters caught in a repressive regime fuel this powerful novel.

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SPRINGTIME IN A BROKEN MIRROR

A military dictatorship fragments a family in this short novel by the late Uruguayan writer Benedetti (1920-2009; Blood Pact, 1997, etc.), originally published in 1982 and translated into English for the first time.

Santiago sits indefinitely in a Uruguayan prison because of his political activism while his wife, Graciela, and their 9-year-old daughter, Beatriz, have lived in exile for the past five years. He exchanges long letters with Graciela and thinks wistfully that “the only proof of god’s existence are Graciela’s legs.” Readers might wonder where he gets all the paper—the letters are that long—and nothing in them seems to catch the attention of the censors. Benedetti explores the pain of separation from loved ones, the mix of loneliness, hope and despair in a man who has no idea when he'll be released. Santiago's father, Don Rafael believes that memories of the family may be keeping his son alive. But the confinement will destroy what they have, because, as Graciela says, “The fact is, I don’t need Santiago anymore.” Prison changes both husband and wife, but her letters do not reveal that she has drifted out of love. Perhaps, she thinks, she is falling in love with Santiago’s best friend and fellow leftist, Rolando. She daydreams only of Rolando but she can’t bring herself to break the news to Santiago while he is still in prison, as it would destroy him. “I still love him as a wonderful friend,” she confides to the sympathetic Don Rafael, “a comrade whose behaviour has been beyond reproach.” The language is often beautifully expressive, as when Don Rafael reflects that one day his son “will have to see Graciela through the bars of another man’s love.” Beatriz adds her own childlike insights, perhaps reflecting a cognitive disability, noting for example that “freedom is a huge word” that “means many things” such as liberty, but her father is at Liberty Prison, which confuses her. One day Uruguay will be transformed, Don Rafael believes, “born in the backroom of the forbidden,” but “we’ll never again be what we were.” This powerful novel evokes the works of Gabriel García Márquez.

Vivid characters caught in a repressive regime fuel this powerful novel.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62097-490-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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