A moving chronicle of hope triumphing over despair from the author of The Match (2008, etc.).

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An episodic novel—or a set of loosely connected stories—set in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 26-year civil war between the insurgent Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army.

The narrator is a van driver, Vasantha, a conceit that cleverly allows the reader to accompany him on his travels through the country, so the structure of the novel becomes an odyssey of sorts. Early on Vasantha comments: “You don’t have to feel trapped. If you are on the move, there is always hope,” and he does in fact retain his humanity and optimism despite the postwar devastation he chronicles. We get to know him through his thoughts and his conversations in the van and at meals, frequently with foreigners visiting the country as it tries to regain a foothold on tourism. One encounter that leads to a rather testy confrontation occurs among Father Perera, his friend Mr. Patrick (an Englishman who’s studying for the priesthood) and a major from the Sri Lankan army who recounts a harrowing episode from the war, one that could be construed as a war crime but which the major simply dismisses as a necessary action. The brutality of the anecdote plays out as they’re all eating a meal that includes the most delicious mangoes in the country. In “Shoot,” Sanji, a photographer who’s been an expat in Italy for many years, returns for a photo shoot at a cricket stadium that had been destroyed by a tsunami in 2004. Other signs of hope abound as, toward the end of his travels, Vasantha recounts streets swept clean of war debris, burned-out buses that have been hauled away and oil barrels removed from army checkpoints, yet many of the scars remain because they’ve been internalized by those traumatized by a generation of war.

A moving chronicle of hope triumphing over despair from the author of The Match (2008, etc.).

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62097-020-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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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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