Another fine, though imperfect novel from an intelligent and inventive storyteller.



An ambitious young man travels far from his homeland, family and a burdensome ancestral obligation in the native Indian (now Canadian) author’s lyrical sixth novel.

Vassanji (a two-time Giller Prize–winner, for The Book of Secrets, 1996, and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, 2004) dramatizes experiences of exile and cultural conflict in parallel narratives set centuries apart, whose similarities are subtly, patiently disclosed. In the 1960s, Karsan Dargawalla grows up into an awareness of the rapidly changing world beyond his West Indian village (Haripir) and a determination to escape the duty toward which his father, a devout Sufi Muslim, has pointed him: their family’s service as “lords” (i.e., priests) of the historic shrine of Pirbaag. In an interpolated story which begins in 1260 A.D., Karsan’s “pilgrimage” (away from holiness) finds its counterpart in the story of Nur Fazal, a wanderer from the north who has survived Mongol oppression, becomes the favorite of an Indian ruler and marries a princess, and subsequently prospers and despairs, in a manner that echoes Karsan’s regrets and sufferings. This richly imagined novel is rendered even more complex by the fragmentation of Karsan’s story into three parts: a childhood dominated by his father’s firm traditionalism; years of intellectual growth, marriage and fatherhood, then of tragic loss in North America; and his disenchanted return to Haripir, following the deaths of his parents and the further loss of his beloved younger brother—to violent Muslim fundamentalism. The novel’s several parts do not satisfactorily cohere, but its slowly gathering power cannot be denied. And Vassanji achieves some spectacular ironic reversals, as the embattled Karsan—one fated, it seems, to keep on learning, however painful the experience—gradually discovers “the secret of the identity of Nur Fazal,” and the significance of the ancient tale in the context of his own demanding, disordered life.

Another fine, though imperfect novel from an intelligent and inventive storyteller.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4217-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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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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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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