A satisfying novel of interconnectedness and community.

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Africa's Heart

THE JOURNEY ENDS IN KANSAS

An ambitious novel concludes Wentling’s (Africa’s Release, 2014) African trilogy.

Letivi, chief of the Ataku village, is faced with a modern dilemma: wealth disparity is growing in the village between those families who have sent children to work in Europe (who then send money back home to their families) and those who have not. Letivi’s goal of correcting this problem via a wealth-sharing agreement among the villagers is hindered by his own lack of a wife or child; as a clan leader says, “Chief Letivi is without a wife or children and thus knows little about the lives we live as we struggle to support our families.” Letivi, a light-skinned half-caste, is also burdened by the secrets of his own parentage: he is the son of Bobovovi, an American Peace Corps volunteer chosen by the moon god and consumed by a sacred baobab tree 20 years before. A hemisphere away, a newspaper reporter named Robin is tracking down a mysterious man named J.D., whose disappearance shocked the town of Gemini, Kansas, and whose trail will lead Robin all the way to Africa. Destinies converge, and the generational saga that Wentling began in Africa’s Embrace arrives at its conclusion. Wentling, an American, admits in the introduction that the book (and the whole trilogy) is based on his four-decade career in Africa, and indeed, the works concern themselves with more than literary pursuits. Logistical issues affecting rural Africa—sustainable farming, education, the evolving role of the village, etc.—are raised in considerable detail, and the activist’s call to awareness is ever present at the periphery. As a novel, the prose tends toward the simple and declarative, though the details of village life and the inclusion of village folklore are immersive enough to lend emotional believability to characters and their actions. Readers of the previous two books will feel a fuller connection to the history of this world (and they’ll be more forgiving of the concluding volume’s 522-page length), yet there’s enough here for the work to stand on its own. With impressive scope and flourishes of magical realism, the book transcends what might seem to be mundane storylines to instead feel fully epic.

A satisfying novel of interconnectedness and community.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1935925552

Page Count: 532

Publisher: Peace Corps Writers

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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