DEATH IN THE ANDES

An impressive panoramic portrayal of his native country is created with masterly economy in this intriguing political detective story by the celebrated Peruvian author (In Praise of the Stepmother, 1990; the autobiography A Fish in the Water, 1994, etc.). The story details the investigation performed in a remote Andean territory by two government Civil Guard officers: weary, cynical Corporal Lituma (who appeared in Vargas Llosa's Who Killed Palomino Molero?, 1987) and his young adjutant, Tomas Carreo. Three men have mysteriously disappeared and are presumed murdered. Suspicion falls initially on the Marxist Shining Path guerrillas, whose terrorist activities range from disrupting a star-crossed highway project to stoning innocent tourists to death. But Lituma also suspects a putative local "witch" and her Falstaffian husband (pointedly named Dionisio), rumored to practice both cannibalism and human sacrifice. The novel rockets energetically from one scene and set of characters to another, powered by Vargas Llosa's distinctive structural device: A story told by one character to another simultaneously presented through authorial omniscience in the present-tense. The guerrillas are observed from outside, and they prove all the more menacing and mysterious for that. Several subplots linger hauntingly in the memory, most notably those involving a woman environmentalist whose devotion to a variously funded reforestation plan brands her as an "intellectual who betrays the people," and a gentle retarded man who watches with horror as a herd of the vicueas he protectively tends is, for ostensibly political reasons, slaughtered. The vigorous, fractious narrative is skillfully unified by a painstakingly rendered contrast between its two major characters: Lituma's profane testiness is oddly engaging, as is his moonstruck partner's romantic fixation on a thug's mistress who has more than one surprise in store for her hopeful young lover. A terrific novel: dramatic and varied, rich in incident, characterization, and atmosphere, and disturbingly forthright in its political and human implications. One of Vargas Llosa's best books in years.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-14001-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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