Buck scholars only need apply.

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THE ETERNAL WONDER

A newly unearthed novel by the Nobel Prize–winning author of The Good Earth, following the rocketlike rise of a literary prodigy.

In the final years of her life, Buck (1892-1973) worked on this novel, which was discovered in late 2012 in a storage unit in Fort Worth, Texas. Buck earned her fame by illuminating China for Americans who understood little about the country, but she squandered her reputation with overproductivity, writing more than 40 novels and nearly 30 nonfiction books. This book will do little to elevate her literary esteem. It tracks its hero, Randolph “Rann” Colfax, literally from the womb and into his early 20s, and the story is framed with wooden set pieces and melodramatic dialogue. The son of a college professor, Rann quickly emerges as a boy genius, and various people soon materialize to support or take advantage of this bright boy. A male teacher attempts to seduce him (prompting an odd lecture from Rann’s mother, who’s less concerned with pedophilia than homosexuality). A wealthy English woman helps him find his sexual self, and the daughter of a Chinese art dealer introduces him to the charms of Paris. In the military, Rann monitors the Korean DMZ, and he witnesses enough corruption during his stint to produce a novel that quickly becomes a sensation. The hackneyed plot diminishes moments that reveal Buck’s genuine sensitivity to the Asian diaspora; one of the best-drawn characters is the Chinese manservant of Rann’s grandfather in Brooklyn. Written late in her life, this book is worth attention as a summing up of Buck's experiences and interests: the links between art and scientific rigor, the fate of Asia in the American century and the perils of literary celebrity. As entertainment, though, it’s dated and thin.

Buck scholars only need apply.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4804-3970-2

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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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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