A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR

An old Italian professor of aesthetics recounts his experiences in WW I to a young acquaintance as they trudge along the road from Rome to Monte Prato 50 years later—in this ebullient, elegaic novel of destruction and survival. "When I love someone, that person disappears," says Alessandro Giulani after having lost not only the objects of his expected early infatuations—the little girl, "whose name, of course, was not Patrizia," he meets in a fairy-tale encounter in the South Tyrol; high-spirited horsewoman Lia Belloti, whose father has bought some of his bourgeois family's land; Janet McCafrey, the Irishwoman who shares a sleeping compartment in the train that takes him to the front in 1914—but also his parents, most of his regiment, his beloved friend Raffaello Foe, and finally his lover Ariene, pregnant with his child, killed in a bombing run on the hospital where she's tending the sick. Ariane's death turns Alessandro's mission in life from survival (on the northern front fighting the Austrians, in Sicily fighting deserters, in Rome and the prison of Stella Marls after the murder of his colonel forces him to turn deserter himself, as a prisoner of the Austrians on his return to the front after a last-minute reprieve from execution) to revenge for Ariane's death, and then—when he suspects she may have escaped after all—to an impossible search through Italy for her. The fondness for magic realism apparent in Winter's Tale turns up in Alessandro's repeated confrontations with querulous old scribe Orfeo Quatta, whose terror of being replaced by newfangled typewriters led him to develop a weirdly beatific model of a universe held together by heavenly sap that turns diabolical when his mechanisms single-handedly unleash the war and all Alessandro's bereavements; but most of this story is in the more old-fashioned mode of the Victorian triple-decker. Tender, optimistic, and sumptuously presented: a feast of a novel, right down to Alessandro's tender lingering over the final course.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0156031132

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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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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