Strikes strong emotional chords.

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AS FLIES TO WHATLESS BOYS

Antoni (Carnival, 2005, etc.) offers up a novel set in 19th-century and modern-day Trinidad.

Some believe that John Adolphus Etzler is a con artist, but the charismatic inventor asserts that his new nature-powered machine, the Satellite, will free men from all forms of labor. Although his claims may be a bit too good to be true—in fact, the machine’s public unveiling and demonstration isn’t exactly stellar—British citizens of all classes are willing to fill Etzler’s coffers and invest in his newly founded Tropical Emigration Society. Their dream: to establish a Utopian society in Trinidad using Etzler’s apparatus. Among the emigrants is the Tucker family, including 15-year-old Willy, who narrates the story. While onboard the Rosalind, Willy contrives to spend his time with socially prominent 18-year-old Marguerite Whitechurch, who communicates through writing because she lacks vocal cords. They fall deeply in love and find creative ways to spend time together—at first furtively and then more openly as few appear to notice or care. Following the long voyage, Etzler (who spent a couple of days tied to the mast for an outrageous claim) absconds to South America and leaves the investors to travel by schooner from Port-au-Prince to Chaguabarriga, the site of their future community. To the men’s dismay, Etzler's machine ends up stuck in the water, the schooner is damaged, and they discover that the plot they purchased is little more than swampland. The men try to salvage what they can, but more misery strikes—this time in the form of Black Vomit (yellow fever)—and Willy must wrestle with decisions that will impact the future. Although wearisome at times, the emotional influence of Willy’s narrative—his loving descriptions of the people who surround him—is profoundly effective. Some may be discouraged by the characters’ use of dialect, which initially is difficult to comprehend, but it’s a crucial element of the story. It’s the modern-day correspondence from T&T National Archives Director Miss Ramsol to writer “Robot” that provides many laugh-out-loud moments and endears Antoni (who pokes fun at himself) to the reader.

Strikes strong emotional chords.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61775-155-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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