An often entertaining but somewhat opaque and arbitrarily fantastical tale of love, war, and death set in Eastern Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, from the accomplished Serbian author whose highly praised game-oriented fiction includes Dictionary of the Khazars (1988) and Landscape Painted with Tea (1990). Subtitled “A Tarot Novel of Divination,” the book in fact is accompanied by a pack of Tarot cards, which the reader may, if desired, use to read in rearranged order the book’s 21 chapters (whose contents correspond to the three groups of seven cards that comprise the Tarot’s “Major Arcana”). This gamesmanship resembles that of Julio Cortaz†r’s amusingly postmodernist Hopscotch (another obvious precursor is The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino, a writer Pavi— in many ways resembles). The story is a painstakingly colorful romance concerning the varied education of Sofronije Opujic, a young cavalryman of mixed Serbian and other European blood, the scion of a prosperous merchant family, and a beguiling mix of real and magical-real qualities: He’s dashingly handsome, polylingual, an expert horseman, incontestably masculine—though possessed of pronounced feminine sensitivities—and a sexual prodigy who lives in a perpetual state of arousal. His service in Napoleon’s army is complicated by a mysterious prophecy detailing his soldier father’s forthcoming “three deaths”; by Sofronije’s love for the daughter of his father’s enemy (and victim); and by a subsequent Romeo and Juliet—like rivalry between their respective families. These and many related matters are presented in a haphazard confection that’s short on narrative clarity and clogged with discursive foreshadowings (numerology is prominent) and with such (and merely) whimsical inventions as a misbegotten “devil,” a virgin who learns she can fly, and a talented fellatrix who “plays” Haydn on her lover’s sexual organ. Portentous allusions to and echoes of the Iliad and a graceful translation aside, this is an ostentatious magic-carpet ride that doesn’t really go anywhere. Pavi—’s earlier books are much superior.

Pub Date: June 5, 1998

ISBN: 0-8023-1323-X

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

Did you like this book?