Unrelenting in its anger, pain and sorrow, but hard to put down.

READ REVIEW

THREE STRONG WOMEN

The three women personifying the complicated relationship between France and Senegal in French-born NDiaye’s tripartite novel, winner of France’s Prix Concourt in 2009, need all the strength they can muster as they struggle to survive.

The novel opens with 38-year-old lawyer, Norah. Half-Sengalese, she was raised in France by her French working-class mother after her businessman father returned to his native Senegal, taking with him her beloved younger brother, Sony. When her once-powerful father asks her to visit, she drops everything to return to Senegal, where she finds him a seemingly broken man. Sony is in prison, charged with murdering the old man’s newest wife, the mother of two small girls he keeps locked in a room with a nursemaid named Khady. Soon, Norah’s Parisian live-in lover, whom she no longer trusts, shows up in Dakar with Norah’s little daughter, Lucie, and Norah is increasingly overwhelmed by conflicting pulls and loyalties. In the second section, Fanta is a Senegalese woman seen only through her French husband Rudy’s eyes. Rudy’s father ran a Senegalese vacation resort, possibly with Norah’s father, although the timeline and specifics remain vague. A bookish intellectual, Fanta was a successful teacher in Dakar before they married, but she has moved with him to France, where she finds herself unemployable. NDiaye follows Rudy, an emotionally damaged, abusive husband (not unlike Norah’s father and not unsympathetically drawn), through a disastrous day that shows the precarious position into which he has placed Fanta and their child as immigrants. The third section focuses on Khady. No longer caring for Norah’s nieces and suddenly widowed after a short marriage, Khady is forced to live with her in-laws. They don’t want her and pay a stranger to get her headed to France, supposedly to live with her cousin, Fanta. On the overland trip to the boat that will supposedly take her overseas, Khady faces one calamity after another. She thinks she has found a protector in a young man, but his desperation to escape Senegal proves greater than his affection or loyalty.

Unrelenting in its anger, pain and sorrow, but hard to put down.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59469-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

more