There’s undoubtedly a great swashbuckling adventure story here, but Kleeberg has failed to unearth it.

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THE KING OF CORSICA

This first U.S. publication of the German author is a leaden historical, based on a true story, about the (mostly) charmed life of an 18th-century German baron.

After a confusing start, the fog lifts to reveal a widow and her two children living in poverty in Lorraine, in northern France. The father, a nobleman from Westphalia, has died of consumption. In 1704 the family gains a benefactor, the Count de Mortagne, a courtier at Versailles, who secures a position as a page for the young Theodor von Neuhoff; he is the first of Theodor’s many patrons. The baron is quick to learn the way the court works, and the importance of gossip; his eavesdropping skills land him an assignment in Paris, where he loses his virginity and incurs huge gambling debts (he will be a lifelong spendthrift). From Paris the court sends him to the Hague as a secret agent to contact a high-ranking Swede, in league with the French against the English. Theodor is right at home in this world of complex rivalries, but Kleeberg is a poor guide for 18th-century Europe, a hodgepodge of nation-states, city-states, grand duchies and protectorates, and Theodor is a disappointing protagonist. Not substantial enough to be a hero or anti-hero, he is the consummate dilettante as he shifts allegiance from Sweden to Spain to the House of Habsburg. In the novel’s final third he finds himself in the thick of the struggle between Corsica and the Republic of Genoa, and offers himself to the Corsicans as their King. This brings him fame throughout Europe, but on the eve of his coronation he is still subject to mood swings (“I don’t want to do this anymore”). He eventually resumes his odyssey, and any drama drains out of the narrative in Kleeberg’s recitation of dates and places.

There’s undoubtedly a great swashbuckling adventure story here, but Kleeberg has failed to unearth it.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59051-256-2

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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