It’s overlong, and overattentive to its three romantic subplots. But Acts of Faith offers an image of Africa deserving...



Idealism and commitment take combative forms in Caputo’s mordant morality tale, a story that strongly resembles his fine 1980 novel Horn of Africa.

The setting is contemporary Africa’s Sudan, where Arab Muslim forces based in Khartoum wage war against Sudani natives, particularly those of the oil rich Nuba Mountains. Aid to embattled Nubans and their scattered allies is the task that unites (and divides) the numerous characters here. Biracial Kenyan soccer star Fitzhugh Martin finds work with airlift relief operation Knight Air, whose pilots include emotionally clenched American Douglas Brathwaite (driven by a guilty family secret), roughhewn Texan Wes(ley) Dare and plucky young Canadian Mary English (who surprises Wes, and us, by falling for the aging reprobate). Other involved figures include British Africanophile philanthropist Diana Briggs; pilot Tara Whitcomb (“the modern-day Beryl Markham”), who flies for Knight Air’s competition; Arab omda (warlord) Ibrahim Idirs, torn between making unwanted war and seeking his missing Nuban mistress; SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) officer Michael Goraende; and Iowan missionary Quinette Hardin, who gives herself to Africa with passionate headlong intensity, and thereafter dutifully embraces the consequences of her actions. Caputo’s rich plot engulfs these, and many other ideologues, mercenaries and do-gooders, in several vividly detailed sequences: a dangerous mission to a makeshift mountain “hospital”; the reclamation of slaves from their greedy captors; the failure of Brathwaite’s scheme to organize international aid by staging a celebratory “Nuban Day”; battles between Goraende’s liberationist “army” and vastly superior Islamic invaders; and the airplane “accidents” staged to cover Knight Air’s real agenda, precipitating an explosive and bitter climax.

It’s overlong, and overattentive to its three romantic subplots. But Acts of Faith offers an image of Africa deserving comparison with Conrad, Hemingway, Peter Matthiessen, and Jan de Hartog’s forgotten near-masterpiece The Spiral Road.

Pub Date: May 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-41166-6

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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