An elegantly drawn and engaging world of a sort unknown to most readers—but one they’ll be glad to have visited.



Cameroonian writer Nganang delivers a modern epic, tinged with liberal doses of magical realism, of life in his country’s colonial era.

Mount Pleasant, in the highlands of Yaoundé, is a story-swathed place where the magical and inexplicable can happen. It is the residence in exile, the Palace of All Dreams, of the learned Sultan Njoya, who has just traded one colonial master for another. “I’m like a woman, and the whites are like men,” Njoya laments. “What can I do except obey?” That note of gender shifting is important, for when 9-year-old Sara enters the Sultan’s harem, its sharp-tongued supervisor, Bertha, inexplicably sees in the young girl an incarnation of her late son, Nebu, and immediately reclassifies her as a boy, something that seems to cause no stir even as Sara is increasingly remade into the lost boy: “Yes,” Bertha thinks, “it was up to her to coat this child’s lips with words of love that would replace Nebu’s tragic story.” Getting to that “tragic story” draws the reader into many other stories, funny and sad and improbable, even as we puzzle out why Bertha should be searching for her dead son in the bodies of young girls. In the end, Nganang offers a fine celebration of storytelling along with a thinly veiled critique of colonialism. Under the best of circumstances, Nganang’s story is not easy to follow; it summons a wealth of African history and cultural allusion that most readers will not have. Still, as with García Márquez, the trick is to suspend disbelief and then some and let the narrative sweep away any scruples. Therein lies depth of observation and precise description: recalls Sara, “She’d hear the syllables of her name ricochet off Yaoundé’s seven hills and then roll through the mud of the valley before they were lost in the heart of the rain, in the joyous laughter of the girls her age.”

An elegantly drawn and engaging world of a sort unknown to most readers—but one they’ll be glad to have visited.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-21385-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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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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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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