A stylish, jampacked tale that examines love, memory, and international identity.

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THE RUINS

A professor of Japanese history searches for a long-lost lover while studying the Portuguese diaspora throughout Asia.

Reyes-Ruiz (La Forma de las Cosas, 2016, etc.) crams a wide range of topics into a novel that follows Tomás Rodrigues, a professor at a Roman Catholic university in Tokyo, as he untangles three plotlines: the sudden reappearance of a girlfriend from his youth, a mysterious old text about the adventures of a 16th-century Portuguese man, and anxieties about his academic career. The enigmatic former lover, Monica Klaseen, is the most intriguing of the three threads, and Rodrigues’ search for her becomes the engine that drives the tale forward. After seeing a woman who looks like Klaseen in the airport, the professor faints and forgets the encounter, but is suddenly haunted by strange dreams and recollections of a woman he hasn’t thought about for more than 20 years. When he returns to Japan for the start of the new school year, he is unable to forget Klaseen, even though he has to navigate departmental politics, a new research project, and his relationship with his ex-wife. That’s a lot of content for a relatively slim 175 pages, but there are essentially two major themes. The first focuses on the difficulty of finding a sense of home in an international world. Rodrigues is a Portuguese-Colombian with Australian citizenship teaching in Japan, battling the stigma against foreigners while investigating the origins of that bias through research. The second delves into the inconsistency of memory and history; Rodrigues constantly struggles to separate truth and falsehood as he parses the imperial past and his own experiences. In addressing this latter point, the novel occasionally trips over itself. Rodrigues’ bout of short-term amnesia at the book’s outset is a curious episode that ultimately feels unnecessary. Stylistically, Reyes-Ruiz’s subject matter and prose evoke a number of comparisons: Haruki Murakami’s ambiguous atmosphere, the virile professor narratives of Philip Roth, and the post-colonial preoccupations of Amitav Ghosh. Fans of any of these authors should find something to like here, but the book may prove especially appealing to anyone looking to learn about an underappreciated dimension of the colonial experience, the Portuguese exploration of Asia.

A stylish, jampacked tale that examines love, memory, and international identity.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-891270-26-0

Page Count: 175

Publisher: Latin American Literary Review Press

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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