It’s hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?

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THE WAY TO PARADISE

With matchless empathy and insight, the great Peruvian author analyzes two contrasting quests for the ideal.

Dual narratives alternate the stories of two fascinating historical characters: early feminist social activist Flora Tristan (1803–44), of mixed Peruvian and French heritage, and her grandson (who never knew her), the great French rebel-painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). Employing both omniscient narration and a teasing, confrontational second-person address, Vargas Llosa (The Language of Passion, 2002, etc.) juxtaposes Flora’s pursuit (throughout a tour of southern France) of her vision of an international “Worker’s Union” with Gauguin’s flight from his Danish wife and five children (in the wake of the 1881 Paris stock market crash) to the South Seas islands, motivated by desires for artistic success and to submerge himself in a “pagan, happy culture, unashamed of the body and untainted by the decadent notion of sin.” This is a formidable, learned novel that embraces the conflicting opinions of social theorists (Fourier, Saint-Simon, Proudhon, et al.) with whom Flora does intellectual battle; 19th-century political history, and rival artistic theories and practices (expressed, e.g., in Gauguin’s memories of his combative friendship with “the mad Dutchman” Vincent van Gogh). It’s also a replete and lively story, whose assured construction and pacing very gradually reveal such crucial life patterns and details as Flora’s abandonment of her abusive husband and her children and discovery of sexual fulfillment with a sympathetic Polish demimondaine, and Gauguin’s aggressive grasp of liberation, awakening artistic consciousness, and exhausted surrender to the ravages of syphilis. It’s Gauguin’s conflicted odyssey that stimulates Vargas Llosa’s imagination most powerfully. But there isn’t a page of this magnificently imagined and orchestrated story that does not vibrate with the energy and mystery of felt, and fully comprehended, life.

It’s hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-22803-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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