THE INNOCENCE OF THE DEVIL

Set in a madhouse, this modern passion play portrays Egypt's harsh patriarchal society and its devastating repression of women. Saadawi (Woman at Point Zero, not reviewed, etc.), a well- known Egyptian feminist and dissident who currently teaches at Duke, makes the injustices that take place in her novel's asylum reflect on all of Egypt. Ganat, a proud and independent young woman unwilling to be subservient, ends up in the asylum. Narguiss, her childhood friend, is the head nurse. The story unfolds through dreamlike flashbacks that begrudgingly reveal a narrative while painting a bleak picture of women's position in Egypt. In one surrealistic scene, Ganat is tried by a judge who shares the characteristics of the oppressive men in her life: the director of the asylum, the King, her grandfather. She is accused of being born with her eyes wide open, not wearing a veil, and allying herself with Satan. Women outside the asylum don't fare well either. Narguiss is haunted by her inability to bleed from her hymen on her wedding night, even though she is a virgin. Her father, dishonored, killed himself that night. Ganat, like many if not most of the women in Egypt, has had a clitoridectomy. Throughout, women are chastised, belittled, and beaten. Passages from the Koran and the Bible are cited, suggesting that Islam and Christianity are to blame. The asylum setting allows Saadawi to include God and the Devil as two deluded inmates. At one point, the two scuffle in a cynical take on the battle between good and evil. By the end of the book, the Devil is revealed to be the scapegoat that allows God to do his worst to women. God whispers to the Devil, who is now gone, ``You made the world so rich for me....'' A poetic and beautiful novel about a great ugliness—the systematic and widespread oppression of half of Egypt.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-520-08889-1

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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