More than worth the wait.

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BEAUTIFUL MARÍA OF MY SOUL

A sequel to The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) that sings with the sweet sensuality of its predecessor.

It has been two decades since Hijuelos made his popular breakthrough with The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel about a band of Cuban émigrés whose appearance on I Love Lucy turned a lovesick bolero into a minor classic.  That song was titled “Beautiful María of My Soul,” and here the novelist returns to tell the story of María, to render her as flesh and blood as well as exotic (and erotic) inspiration. Yes, she remains “the most dazzling woman in Cuba,” one whose beauty inspires rapture in every man who encounters her, including the author: “If that mirror were a man, it would have been salivating; if it were a carpet it would have taken flight; if it had been a pile of wood it would have burst into flame, so lovely was María.” Yet such beauty is bittersweet, for this is a woman who knows that her fate depends upon it and that inevitably it will fade. There is music in her romance with Nestor Castillo, the shy but handsome trumpeter who will spend years composing the song that pays tribute to her. Each may be the other’s true love, but life has other designs, as the novel shows how the beautiful María chooses her destiny, rebels against it and makes peace with it. The prose combines the simplicity of a folk tale with the lyricism of a romantic balladeer and the depth of a philosopher, as it encompasses what María considers “her holy trinity: God, love, and death.” Amid the political undercurrent of revolution in Cuba and with a recognition of the racial complexities of America, María finds a new life in Miami, where she raises a daughter whose perspective within the novel ultimately prevails. The result is a sequel that can be relished independently of the first volume while harmonizing with it.

More than worth the wait.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2334-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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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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