I, TITUBA, BLACK WITCH OF SALEM

Caribbean-born CondÇ (Segu, 1987; The Children of Segu, 1989; and see below) gives questionable life to Tituba, one of the accused and subsequently released witches of Salem, in a novel of some conflicting purpose. In a lengthy afterword that includes an interview with the author, CondÇ claims to be expressing her opinion about present-day America, where ``little has changed since the days of the Puritans''; to be writing a postmodern mock epic in which she parodies the heroic epic—and contemporary feminism; and to be giving Tituba ``a reality that was denied to her because of her color and her gender.'' But these authorial claims and results seem frequently at odds in this story of Tituba, born on the island of Barbados to a slave raped by a British seaman. When her mother is hung for striking a white man, the child is raised by a local soothsayer who teaches her to summon the dead and heal with herbs. She marries handsome but weak John Indian; and when the couple is sold to the Reverend Samuel Parris, they accompany the Parris family to Salem. There, Tituba practices her healing, tries to help young Betsy Parris, but instead, caught up in the witch-hunt, is accused of trying to harm her. In prison, she meets Hester Prynne, and to defray the cost of her keep is sold to a Jewish widower, a victim of local prejudice, who, grateful for her bringing back his beloved dead, arranges for Tituba to return to Barbados. Back in her old cabin, she is killed when her lover, trying to organize a slave revolt, is betrayed. But Tituba goes on: ``Now that I've gone over to the invisible world I continue to heal and cure. But primarily I have dedicated myself to hardening men's hearts to fight.'' The confusion of ends doesn't help a book that has too obviously sacrificed a moving and dramatic story to agenda and fashion. Tituba deserves better.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-8139-1398-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of Virginia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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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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