A pleasure to read and a welcome window on a world we know too little about.

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MIRAGES OF THE MIND

Picaresque, politically shaded novel of life in 20th-century Pakistan, a country and time fading into memory and rife with nostalgia.

The good old days weren’t always so good—but they weren’t so bad, either. Yousufi, well-known in Pakistan but, at the age of 92, just emerging outside that country, delivers a rollicking epic told through the person of one Basharat Ali Farooqi, a bit of a sad sack who constantly makes tough luck for himself: “Now Basharat began to regret his foolishness: why had he loaded into a ramshackle car goods worth twice the car’s amount?” So goes a typical moment, with Basharat wishing a thief would come along and relieve him of his worries and instead courting the attention of the police on a different count. Basharat is nothing if not aspirational, though he seldom succeeds in rising to the rascally heights of his father-in-law, Qibla, who has the look of a devil about him: “His big eyes bulged from their sockets. They were always bloodshot—really bloodshot. As red as pigeon’s blood.” Fearful countenance aside, Qibla is a fellow whose schemes never quite work out according to plan, either. Caught up in the chaos of India and Pakistan at the time of the 1947 partition, Basharat, Qibla, and Yousufi’s other characters do what they can to get by, discovering that if you can’t go home again, you can’t go elsewhere, either. Yousufi writes of the most serious events with balloon-puncturing good humor, and his chapter titles alone are worth the price of admission: “Do Lizards Breastfeed?” “The Teachers Have Eaten Up the Orphanage!” “I Was Punished for the Horny Camel’s Misdeeds.” Doubtless Yousufi courted the displeasure of fundamentalists and nationalists in writing this novel, published in Urdu in 1990; the introduction, good and substantial though it is, might have done a touch more to set it in its context and discuss its reception. But that’s a quibble unworthy of Qibla.

A pleasure to read and a welcome window on a world we know too little about.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2413-0

Page Count: 574

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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