First published in 1956, this stirring, populous, large-hearted story about a rogue environmentalist is both a portrait of a...

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THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN

Gary (1914-1980; The Kites, 2017, etc.), French Resistance aviator, war hero, and the only author to win the prestigious Prix Goncourt under two different names, overlays the plight of elephants and humans in this sprawling and ambitious novel set in post–WWII Africa.

The book begins as a story within a story, in a style reminiscent of Conrad, the details emerging gradually. A Jesuit priest arrives deep in the bush of French Equatorial Africa to question the colonial administrator there about events of the recent past. At the heart of the story is an idealist and former dentist named Morel, who petitions for the protection of the elephant herds. Dismissed as a crackpot and accused of misanthropy for caring more about elephants than people, he eventually abandons his petition and turns vigilante, shooting hunters and elephant trappers, burning ivory traders' buildings, ordering a trophy hunter flogged in public. His story catches the world's attention, stirring up sympathy for his cause and creating a public relations disaster for the local colonial government. Others join him: an elderly Danish naturalist and environmentalist; a young German woman orphaned in the siege of Berlin and raped by Russian soldiers; a dishonorably discharged, alcoholic American major; a charismatic Oulé tribesman with a French wife and education who wants to use Morel and his elephants in the struggle for African self-determination; a Jewish American news photographer who lost his family to the Nazis. As in The Kites, Gary is interested in the fate of idealism in a disillusioned, violent world, but this novel also compels us to consider the fate of nature in the face of human encroachment and greed. The horrors of WWII and the atomic bomb loom over the characters. Morel's identification with elephants began in a German concentration camp, where the idea of them roaming free on the plains of Africa kept him sane. Though his motives get twisted for political ends, he repeatedly rejects nationalism, insisting that the elephants are not symbols but living beings: "They breathe, they suffer, and they die, like you and me." The theme of suffering runs deeply through the novel. So does the loneliness of the human condition, which dogs each of these characters differently, including the British colonel with the pet jumping bean that is later buried with him. Gary shows a deep sympathy for his well-drawn, misfit characters as well as for the continent of Africa, shown here at a crossroads.

First published in 1956, this stirring, populous, large-hearted story about a rogue environmentalist is both a portrait of a vanished age and a timely reminder of the choices that still confront us.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56792-626-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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