Bold, slashing view of the tiresome banality of evil.



A journalist decides to avenge one of the many atrocities he’s witnessed, in a third novel (Scar Tissue, 1994, etc.) by political commentator-historian Ignatieff (Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, 2001, etc.).

There are few more clichéd characters than the seasoned war journalist—but few more compelling. Witness Charlie Johnson, the rough soul here. Charlie, who’s covered wars since Vietnam, has been based out of London of late, where he has a family that he never sees because he’s globetrotting to flashpoints with his rock-solid Polish cameraman Jacek. But Charlie gets set off when he and Jacek are trying to cover a story in Kosovo, circa 1998, and a Serb patrol comes through the village, setting fires. As Charlie and Jacek hide in a dugout, the woman who sheltered them is doused in gasoline and set on fire by the soldiers: “As she ran, her arms were like wings of flame, and she blundered into you in an embrace of fire.” Horribly burned himself, Charlie recuperates first under US Navy care, then at Jacek’s remote farmhouse—his wife’s phone calls going unanswered. Deeply scarred once too often by the memories of war, Charlie begins to harbor fantasies of revenge on the officer responsible for the woman’s death. When Charlie goes back to London, he acts out like a petulant teenager, playing the seasoned pro who has to explain nothing to anybody because he’s looked evil in the face and been marked forever. Ignatieff’s prose, which can tend toward the stiff, is best when describing Charlie in this self-righteous but resolutely unwise state of mind, formed by decades of violence: “It seemed obvious to him now that he had been left almost completely untouched by his life. Tired of it, perhaps, but untouched, as if it had all been just a very long action movie and no curtain.” Charlie’s return to the Balkans seems less a mission of justice than an acting-out of something he once saw in a movie.

Bold, slashing view of the tiresome banality of evil.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8021-1755-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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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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