No perfect ending, but enough redemption and hope make this a quiet celebration of survival.

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THE COVENANT

Bonds forged in Auschwitz help a young mother caught in the Intifada to survive—in a scrupulously fair-minded and riveting tale of current Israel.

A deft mix of past and present, the story’s as much political thriller as conventional tale about the ties of family and friendship. The representative cast of characters here includes journalists, Saudi Arabians, Palestinians, and Jewish settlers, as well as members of Hamas. Herself a long-time resident of Israel, Ragen (Chains Around the Grass, 2002, etc.) is putting the case for that country, but she does it with considerable sensitivity. Things begin in 2002 with American-born Elise, confined to bed because of a difficult second pregnancy, relying on her oncologist husband Jonathan to take their daughter, five-year-old Ilana, to day-care. The Margulieses live in one of the controversial settlements, and Jonathan must pass through dangerous Palestinian-held areas on his way to the hospital, where he takes care of both Palestinians and Jews. Later that day, homeward-bound with Ilana, his car is ambushed and the two disappear. Elise, in shock at the news, is rushed to hospital. When Leah, Elise’s grandmother and a Holocaust survivor, learns in New York what’s happened, she flies to Israel, but not before contacting the three other women who swore an oath—a covenant—to help one another survive Auschwitz. The three—Esther, a cosmetics mogul, who lives in California; Ariana, who owns a famous nightclub in Paris; and Maria, a Polish Catholic—immediately rally round: Esther contacts her granddaughter, who’s married to a Saudi with contacts in high places; Ariana uses her club sources to compromise a Hamas leader; and Maria sends her grandson Milos to Israel, where he befriends Julia, a Palestinian sympathizer and TV journalist, who unknowingly has contacts involved in dangerous pursuits.

No perfect ending, but enough redemption and hope make this a quiet celebration of survival.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-29119-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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