Searing, lyrical, and ultimately devastating, Appanah’s latest novel might be her finest yet.

TROPIC OF VIOLENCE

A teenage boy navigates a life of poverty and brutality on the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

Moïse is barely 14 when his adoptive mother, Marie, suddenly dies. They live on the tropical island of Mayotte, officially a “department” of France. Every year, scores of undocumented immigrants—from the Comoro Islands, Africa, and elsewhere—wash up on Mayotte’s shores in small boats known as kwassa-kwassas. That’s how Moïse’s birth mother arrived. One night, she appeared in the hospital where Marie worked as a nurse, handed over her baby, and disappeared. In her latest novel, Appanah (Waiting for Tomorrow, 2018, etc.) interrogates difficult truths about immigration, class, poverty, and race and doesn’t settle for any easy answers. After Marie dies, Moïse falls from a middle-class life to one of desperation. He turns to a local shantytown and a brutal gang leader known as Bruce. In short, lyrically vivid chapters, Appanah alternates from one character’s point of view to another’s—some of them, like Marie, speaking from beyond the grave. “I used to think,” Moïse explains, “that on the day when I discovered the truth about my birth, something in my head would click into place.” Things don’t work out that way. Appanah, who was born in Mauritius and now lives in France, has written a crucial, timely novel. In it, she shows that beyond all the good intentions of the well-meaning lies a seething, anguished world that will require more than a few NGOs to recover. Moïse is just one of its victims.

Searing, lyrical, and ultimately devastating, Appanah’s latest novel might be her finest yet.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64445-024-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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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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