Intelligent, fun, sad, insightful—an exceptional work.



This is a smart, entertaining sprawl of a book that dissects, chides, and pays homage to the European Union.

A prologue flags the busy narrative that lies ahead: As a pig runs loose on the streets of Brussels, five of the main characters are introduced, tied to a trade dispute, a pan-European project, and a murder that is possibly linked to NATO and the Vatican. Pig references abound, revealing both the complexities of trade deals and the author’s impish side. Menasse (Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits: Or Why the Democracy Given to Us Must Become One We Fight For, 2016, etc.), an Austrian who won Germany’s top literary prize for this novel, has many threads to weave. Like Musil in The Man Without Qualities, he has fun with efforts to organize something grand to celebrate an anniversary, here the 50th of the European Commission’s founding (he even parodies that book’s opening passage). The narrative mosaic’s main tiles concern the commission’s bureaucratic circus, its subtle and petty power games. Menasse conveys a broad range of the human comedy with brisk, sometimes-mordant prose—and the guidance of a fine translator. Here are two bureaucrats in their first tryst: “He faked desire for her; she faked an orgasm. The chemistry was right.” Through it all is the steady message that more unites the people of the European Union than divides them. The narrative reinforces this with personal histories that cross borders and intersect. There are also two disparate characters following different paths to a similar vision of “the commonality of Europeans,” born, like the commission itself, from a hope to never again let nationalist madness become Holocaust. Each makes unsettling use of Auschwitz, however, and some speechifying that turns a message of story-borne subtlety into neon glare. These are rare missteps in this ambitious panorama that arrives amid the throes of Brexit and the Chinese Year of the Pig.

Intelligent, fun, sad, insightful—an exceptional work.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-571-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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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 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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