Former AP Middle East correspondent Hamilton writes with striking clarity, using words as carefully as the Bedouin use water...

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STAIRCASE OF A THOUSAND STEPS

First novel, set in 1967, about a young Arab girl who dreams of the past—and foretells the future.

Jammana is 11, but her memories are much older. She’s not the first in her family to be both blessed and cursed with second sight. Her great-great-grandfather foretold a lifetime of troubles for her beloved grandfather Harif. First, his mother, Alula, a spirited and lovely woman, was struck by lightning during a freak storm. The shattered stump of the tree where she died was revered by the local women, but the bereaved boy soon became an outcast in the village of Ein Fadr, shunned by resentful neighbors who thought he now possessed knowledge of their secret sins and desires. Harif became a shepherd, wandering the hills of Samaria with his flock. His secret love was a near-outcast herself, although Alula was one of the few who showed her any kindness: Faridah, the midwife, who was married at 12 and divorced by her husband at 18 for her childlessness. Independent by circumstance and by nature, the young woman is also essentially fearless—qualities that arouse the suspicions of the village men. Although it is customary for a barren woman, or a woman past childbearing age, to become a midwife, it is whispered that Faridah is a ghouleh, an evil spirit, because of her knowledge of healing herbs and oils. She ignores it all and lives life on her own terms, becoming pregnant by Harif, by now betrothed to another. She miscarries, telling no one, and continues her work. Almost every soul in Ein Fadr was brought into the world by her skillful hands; and, years later, Jammana is devoted to her, following her everywhere and helping when she can. Still, there are those who hate Faridah: eventually, she’s found dead in a dry riverbed, her throat cut. But by whom?

Former AP Middle East correspondent Hamilton writes with striking clarity, using words as carefully as the Bedouin use water to bring a disappearing world to vibrant life. Here, in a luminous debut, are the voices, real and rarely heard, of traditional Arab women.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14725-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: BlueHen/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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