An imprisoned Ukrainian dissident artfully unearths his past in stories.

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LIFE WENT ON ANYWAY

One writer’s early days in Crimea.

Arrested in May 2014, Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Sentsov now is serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian prison after his conviction on dubious terrorism charges in 2015. Oscar-winning filmmakers and PEN International have rallied to his cause, and the publication in the West of this debut collection is part of the campaign to bring attention to his unjust incarceration. In eight brief stories that read like slices of a memoir in progress, Sentsov revisits his early life in a Crimean village, a world that for him “had limits, but it wasn’t limited.” Though his ostensible subjects don’t rise above the mundane—his dog, his childhood illnesses, and his years as a victim of relentless school bullies—Sentsov consistently manages to see the world through the eyes of a child while writing, in a disarmingly unaffected style, with the wisdom and sardonic wit of a sometimes-disillusioned adult. He displays that talent in “Dog,” the story of the German shepherd he received as a 12th birthday gift. In a few paragraphs he effortlessly navigates the transition from their pleasant walks “on a damp autumn day, in the long, bright twilight” to days when “walking the dog turned into a tiresome obligation” as his once cherished pet “faded into the background, like a wife that you continue to live with but stop noticing.” The story concludes on a bitter note, as Sentsov hints at his mother’s affair with a neighbor and confesses he “would never have thought it would be harder to bury my dog than my father.” “Childhood” breezily surveys his life from ages 5 to 14, a time when “ten years feel like nothing compared to that bell that will never ring!" And looking back on his beloved village from the vantage point of fifteen years of city life, he understands that “the places are the same and the people are supposedly the same, but everything is different.” Through these brief glimpses he’s managed to arrest that inevitable process, at least on the page.

An imprisoned Ukrainian dissident artfully unearths his past in stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-941920-87-9

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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