Despite some promising subplots, this historical tale only skims the emotional surface of two of the 20th century’s most...

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ACROSS GREAT DIVIDES

In Roy’s (Once Upon a Time in Venice, 2007) novella, a Jewish family bears witness to Nazism and apartheid.

“[I]t’s hard to believe that little man will be anything,” says teenage Inge to her identical twin sister, Eva, during a 1932 concert at the Berlin Philharmonie. “I think he is somewhat comical…don’t you?” Of course, the man in question is no laughing matter: over the next six years, Adolf Hitler will transform the “cultural jewel” of Berlin into a city ravaged by anti-Semitism and teetering on the brink of war. Initially, none of Eva and Inge’s family members know what to make of the Nazis; their parents, Oskar and Helene, assume that the threat will blow over, while their younger brother Max urges everyone to flee the country. After surviving the horrific Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, the family wisely heeds Max’s advice. Using his connections to the resistance movement, he manages to sneak them out of Germany—first to Antwerp, Belgium, and then on a globe-trotting journey that takes them to France and Rio de Janeiro. In 1944, the family settles in Cape Town, South Africa, where they finally enjoy calm and prosperity. The new restrictions of apartheid, however, force Eva, Inge, and the others to choose between fighting against oppression, fleeing once more, or protecting themselves by ignoring injustice. Roy’s narrative, based on her grandparents’ own flight from Nazi-era Germany to Cape Town, often feels assembled from clichés rather than specific, intimate details. Too often, the prose and dialogue rely on platitudes (“It was a constant and painful sight to watch human beings being cruel to other human beings”) and awkward exposition (“It’s ludicrous that Hitler blames the Jews for taking over the country, yet we are only one percent of the population”), which makes the story feel secondhand and never lived-in. Fortunately, the lives of Roy’s supporting cast feel more immediate; for example, the chapters focusing on Trudy, the twins’ best friend–turned-Nazi; and Zoe, the family’s South African maid, offer a more challenging, richer reading experience.

Despite some promising subplots, this historical tale only skims the emotional surface of two of the 20th century’s most devastating chapters.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615846682

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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

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