THE LOVES OF FAUSTYNA

A hectic tour of the last decades of Polish Communism, complete with its own nonstop laugh track, that tries too hard to be both wise and witty. FitzPatrick (Fables of the Irish Intelligentsia, 1993) sets the tone in the opening scene: the appearance over Krak¢w in 1967 of buttock-shaped clouds that fill the inhabitants with a ``vague sense of having committed some mortal sin which God was now bluntly pointing out to us.'' One of those uneasy citizens is narrator Faustyna, a psychology student who decides that she will lose her virginity to a visiting Russian so that ``hail, rain or Apocalypse'' she will at least die a woman. The deed done, Faustyna goes on to acquire a series of lovers and participate in anti- government demonstrations. Fearing arrest, she finds work in the Psychotechnic Bureau at the Central Railway Station of a ``mongrel city'' in which everyone is hiding something. Here she has affairs with a political activist and an old school friend, either of whom could be the father of the daughter to whom she eventually gives birth. Politics, the personal, and the vaguely supernatural intertwine as Faustyna goes on with a life that is supposed to be a hilarious but profound indictment of the regime. Back in Krak¢w working for Solidarity, she is arrested and imprisoned, then released after a few months when she guiltily signs a Declaration of Loyalty, because ``it's too much for an unmarried mother to fight communism.'' Other lovers follow as Faustyna continues her political work, but one betrays her, and she again is detained. Though the old regime is dying, Faustyna, still harassed by the police, for the first time thinks of leaving; in the end, she notes, ``just fatigue'' can make you give up. She departs for Ireland, heading for a place on the coast where she has heard ``magical events can happen.'' More sit-com than satire.

Pub Date: March 14, 1995

ISBN: 0-14-024132-9

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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