A powerful tale about one person’s ability to make a difference.

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NO ROOM FOR DABHA

Pai’s debut novel offers an entertaining, thoughtful look at a young man’s change of fortune as the sudden death of his father ends one chapter of his life and promptly begins another.

Vithal Hegde, a college student living in India, has just turned 21 and has his whole life ahead of him: he’s only a year away from graduating and has high aspirations of working in sales or pharmaceuticals. These ambitions are far removed from his father’s job delivering food as a dabhawala and signify his success and achievement—largely due to his father’s hard labor to finance Vithal’s education. But days after Vithal’s birthday, his father suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving the young man with no choice but to leave college and adopt his father’s humble trade. He faces scorn and mockery from his close friends, Peter and Irfan, but resigns himself to his new job. He finds it physically draining but ultimately rewarding as he supports his mother and sister. But his early introduction to adulthood takes a troubling turn when he learns of corruption that affects Irfan’s father’s business as well as others’. A vicious cycle of greed and bribery allows “hawkers” to disrupt competing businesses and stop the police from interfering. Vithal’s responsibility toward his own family widens to include his fellows, and he chairs a committee to rally the local residents against injustices in their city. In this inspiring tale, Pai shows Vithal and his friends striving to “in a small way or a big way [be] a part of the solution” instead of part of the problem. The story of Vithal’s coming-of-age, told from his first-person point of view, is a timeless one of friendship, ambition, and determination. The prose is candid and casual, giving readers a sense of sitting alongside the young protagonist as he matures and grows (“Looking around it was just amazing even to my inexperienced eyes, to see a nation doing so much that is not wanted and doing so little about what is wanted”). He and his friends are well-sketched characters, and their struggles between idealism and self-absorption make them relatable and likable.

A powerful tale about one person’s ability to make a difference.

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1482828962

Page Count: 388

Publisher: PartridgeIndia

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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