Readers hooked by the premise may ultimately find the plotting a disappointment, but Ntshanga’s promising debut is both...

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THE REACTIVE

A trio of friends sell antiretrovirals to HIV patients in Cape Town, but their lives are upended when a stranger who knows more about them than he should tries to buy their whole stash.

It’s early in the 21st century, the South African government has not yet made antiretrovirals widely available, and Lindanathi, who contracted HIV while working as a lab assistant, now spends his days hanging out, huffing glue, and, with the help of two friends, Cecelia and Ruan, selling his own ARVs to customers he finds at support-group meetings. One day, the friends receive an email from a man offering to buy all their pills for double their usual price. But the proposition comes with an implicit threat: the man also includes information about where each of them lives and works, and before they even agree to his terms, the stranger has deposited the funds in their bank account. It’s an electrifying premise, though Ntshanga is more interested in Lindanathi’s emotional journey than with the particulars of the plot. Indeed, a good portion of the proceedings concerns not the present but the past. Ten years before, Lindanathi’s younger brother, Luthando, was killed, and Lindanathi blames himself for what happened. As the narrative moves forward, questions build: how exactly did Lindanathi contract HIV? What really happened to Luthando? And who is the stranger at the story’s core? Unfortunately the questions Ntshanga raises are more compelling than his answers, but even if the plot doesn’t completely come together, he still succeeds at exploring major themes—illness, family, and, most effectively, class—while keeping readers in suspense.

Readers hooked by the premise may ultimately find the plotting a disappointment, but Ntshanga’s promising debut is both moving and satisfyingly complex.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937512-43-9

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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