Zuravleff’s love for ancient treasures and their sometimes fallible guardians is clear on every page. Unfortunately, that...

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THE BOWL IS ALREADY BROKEN

A glacially slow second novel from Zuravleff (The Frequency of Souls, 1996) concerns an embattled museum and its varied staff.

The Museum of Asian Art, with its fabulous location on the Mall in Washington, D.C., has a fateful day in 1999 when its banners promoting Asian cultures send the nation’s governors into a xenophobic tizzy that causes them to pressure the trustees into converting the museum into a food court. The museum’s director, beloved and energetic Joseph Lattimore, surprisingly caves (add unconvincing characterization to a dumb premise). He gives notice and leaves with wife Emmy for a dig in the Taklamakan, a Central Asian desert, where he will be taken hostage by Kashmiri terrorists, barely escaping with his life. Conflict in the desert substitutes for conflict in D.C., where the battle is never joined between trustees and museum staff. Acting director Promise Whittaker doesn’t learn of the trustees’ plans until the story’s halfway point, and doesn’t save the day by enlisting the Dalai Lama’s help until the end (something Joseph could have done at the beginning). Petite, goodhearted Promise is the actual protagonist. This 43-year-old Oklahoman, married with two kids to top Amnesty staffer Leo, finds she is pregnant again. Zuravleff, a former editor of books for the Smithsonian, eulogizes this working mom at length when she’s not imparting information on Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet who’s Promise’s specialty. As for the titular bowl, curator Arthur Franklin has acquired this fine Chinese porcelain for the museum but drops it at the donation ceremony, shattering it beyond repair. The broken bowl embodies a Buddhist lesson, but it’s also a victim of bedroom shenanigans, for Arthur’s triumphal lofting of the bowl had been suggested by fellow curator Talbot during some gay foreplay. Not to worry. Arthur gets off with probation, as does Min Chen, a curator who once embezzled museum funds to pay for fertility treatments.

Zuravleff’s love for ancient treasures and their sometimes fallible guardians is clear on every page. Unfortunately, that love alone isn’t sufficient foundation for a novel.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-374-11571-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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