This is a humane, riveting, epic novel that spotlights marginalized historical voices.

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OUT OF DARKNESS, SHINING LIGHT

A rollicking novel that retells the history of British colonial exploration in Africa from the perspective of historical figures who have otherwise been silenced.

Zimbabwean writer Gappah (The Book of Memory, 2016, etc.) tells the story of the black attendants who bore the Scottish explorer David Livingstone's corpse from present-day Zambia to the African coast in the late 19th century. As the prologue says, "This story has been told many times before, but always as the story of the Doctor." Gappah turns the tables by making Livingstone's attendants into protagonists. Our heroes are Halima, a young slave woman Livingstone purchased as a partner for his assistant, the abusive and cruel Amoda; and Jacob Wainwright, a former slave from East Africa who was educated by Christian missionaries in Mumbai. Halima is a jovial and headstrong young woman who speaks boisterously despite her status. "Why any man would leave his own land and his wife and children to tramp in these dreary swamps...is beyond my understanding," she wonders about Livingstone. Jacob is Halima's opposite, a self-serious young man who keeps a journal which he hopes will be published in the future. When Livingstone dies of malaria, his attendants decide to carry his body to the coast in a display of loyalty, so that it may be carried back to England. After burying his heart in the village where he died, the band sets off toward Zanzibar in a show of dedication. The arduous journey through hostile terrain gradually erodes their reverence for the doctor, though. Halima begins to wonder how worthy he is of her dedication. "Was he worth it? What were we doing, taking a father to his children when he had let one of those children die?" Meanwhile, Jacob reads Livingstone's journals and finds a man whose anti-slavery ideals clash with his actions as a colonialist explorer. The journey to the coast turns out to be an education in how the band is oppressed by colonial power. Along the way, though, Gappah captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail. The result is a rich, vivid, and addictive book filled with memorably drawn characters.

This is a humane, riveting, epic novel that spotlights marginalized historical voices.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1033-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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