FOOTSTEPS

From noted Indonesian dissident Toer (Child of All Nations, 1993, etc.), the third novel in an ambitious but flawed quartet continues the story of Javanese patriot Minke, who now takes up the anticolonial fight in earnest. Like Toer's previous books, Footsteps was first composed orally while the author was a political prisoner; he remains under house arrest in Jakarta, and his books are banned in Indonesia. Also like its predecessors, unfortunately, it is a clumsy mix of earnest political reportage and often lyrical personal detail. Minke, the series' protagonist, who has dabbled in journalism while wanting to become a doctor, is finally accepted at the medical school for ``natives'' in Batavia. There he is expected to wear indigenous, not European, dress: The Dutch colonial powers in the early 1900s are as ethnically doctrinaire as their Afrikaner cousins in South Africa. Minke soon realizes he is not cut out to be a doctor—especially a native one, who must work for the colonial rulers at a fixed low rate. Still drawn to politics, he meets beautiful Mei, who is working to establish Chinese self-help organizations in the Indies and urges him to do something substantive for his people as well as become a doctor. They marry, and when Mei dies after a severe bout of malaria, Minke forms an embryonic nationalist organization. But his grades are poor, and he is expelled from medical school. Next he founds a magazine and, when it succeeds, a newspaper, the first to be owned and operated by natives. Along the way he acquires powerful enemies, who force him to leave both Java and his new wife, the warrior Princess, who killed one of Minke's enemies with her own pistol. But the struggle will continue. As usual, vivid vignettes of colonial folly, local characters, and customs at the turn of the century, but the political agenda continues to be obtrusive.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1995

ISBN: 0-688-13748-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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