An impressionistic flash-fiction trek through the wreckage of war.



Stories about life in Mozambique after its civil war, reckoning with the damage via fable and folklore.

This collection by Couto (Woman of the Ashes, 2018, etc.) was first published in Portuguese in 1994, two years after the end of a 15-year war that killed or displaced 6 million people. So the mood is understandably somber, but Couto is not interested in dwelling on carnage; in his introduction, he writes that he wishes to explore instead “the space where violence could not strike, where barbarism could not enter.” That means the stories are more intimate tales of loss or of odd, Borges-ian incidents: A man is concerned that his pregnant wife’s long labor signals she’s cheated; the rain in the title story represents the end of the war years when “the gods reproached us with this drought”; a coconut reportedly spills blood instead of milk; a man turns his heavy drinking into an act of postwar religious meditation. All of the 26 stories are brief, usually running no more than five or six pages. And the plots are brush strokes, usually turning on themes of infidelity and the ways society has been upended after the war, be it through coping mechanisms (drinking and sex, usually) or more peculiar scenarios, as in “Beyond the River Bend,” in which a hippopotamus breaks into a vocational school and contents itself “chewing through a sewing machine.” Stylistically, Couto’s writing is poker-faced, neither rejecting nor outright embracing the more surrealistic events he describes, though he does enjoy wordplay: Translator Becker ably preserves Couto's affinity for neologisms with puns like “timidiminutive,” “mistified nights,” “intirrigated,” “airsfixiated.” Not every coinage works, nor does every story, but the prevailing effect is, to quote one of his portmanteaus, “splendolorous”: conveying a sense of profound loss flecked with a measure of optimism about life after the bloodshed is over.

An impressionistic flash-fiction trek through the wreckage of war.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77196-266-7

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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