ADRIFT ON THE NILE

Ten young professionals spend their evenings drifting in a houseboat on the Nile until a senseless tragedy splits them apart—in a brief 1966 novel, the most clearly modernist work yet translated into English by the Nobel-winning author of The Cairo Trilogy. The group's master of ceremonies, Anis Zaki, is a widower at the Ministry of Health whose addiction to smoking kef is so severe that he can write out and submit a lengthy document at work without noticing that his pen has run out of ink. Anis marks time from night to night, when he and his thirtysomething friends—a translator for the Foreign Ministry, an accountant at the Ministry of Social Affairs, a lawyer, an art critic, a noted writer of short stories—gather to cast off from the shoreline for endless, aimless conversations about Egyptian society, politics, religion, and other imponderables that lead to gravely modish insights: "Last night I believed totally in eternal life—but on my way to the office I forgot the reason why." One night the group is joined by Samara Bahgat, a "serious" journalist, and their placid world begins to shiver. Announcing that she "will not be tempted into the abyss," Samara begins to keep a notebook casting her companions as characters in a play about "the Serious versus the Absurd"; she draws ever closer to Anis without acknowledging or returning his love; and when the group, out joy-riding one night on the streets of Cairo, runs clown and kills a pedestrian, she insists they go to the police—even if it means a prison term for the driver and the end of their "paradise." Quietly, disturbingly incisive about modern Cairo's uneasy truce between old ways and new, though less powerfully compressed than either The Cairo Trilogy or last year's magical The Journey of Ibn Fattouma.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-385-42322-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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