Will this book eventually become a Merchant-Ivory film, laden with choice roles for Indian actors and featuring (a...

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THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

Precise descriptive writing offers much to savor in this bouillabaisse of a first novel from a former Forbes editor.

Written at the suggestion of Morais’s late friend, noted film producer Ismail Merchant, it’s the story of a Muslim boy born in Mumbai who grows up to achieve great fame in the rarefied world of French cuisine. Hassan Haji narrates, beginning with the tale of his grandfather’s profitable enterprise: a fleet of “snack-bicycles” delivering lunches to soldiers and laborers in the streets of downtown (then) Bombay in the 1930s. Innovations inspire Hassan’s ambitious father Abbas, whose mixed history of achievements and frustrations includes the creation of a popular restaurant (“Bollywood Nights”) and a bitter rivalry with a sleek, superrich fellow entrepreneur. When Abbas moves his family to a small village (Lumière) in France’s Jura Mountains, he learns he has trespassed onto territory appropriated by grande dame Gertrude Mallory, an imperious avatar of fine dining who will brook no challenges from brown-skinned “inferiors.” Madame Mallory is such a formidable presence (equal parts Lady Bountiful and Falstaff) that she very nearly rescues this repetitive tale from its many longueurs—especially when she inadvertently causes severe physical harm to the innocent Hassan, of whom she will reluctantly whisper “that skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along in a chef once a generation.” Predictably, Hassan braves his father’s wrath, becomes Mme. Mallory’s apprentice-protegé and rises like a soufflé to prize-winning chef-hood in the appreciative atmosphere of Paris.

Will this book eventually become a Merchant-Ivory film, laden with choice roles for Indian actors and featuring (a no-brainer, this) Meryl Streep as Mme. Mallory? An appetizing idea, n’est-ce pas?

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6564-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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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