A compelling novel that nonetheless carries the ponderous weight of the era’s events and ideas.

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THE REBELS

A newly translated 1930 novel by Hungarian author Márai, set among a group of young men during WWI, joins two other works by the author to enjoy recent play in the publishing sun: Embers (2001) and Casanova in Bolzano (2004).

This novel is set in 1918 in a small, provincial Hungarian town, where a group of schoolboys known to each other from youth have created a gang that empowers them in the face of a larger impending crisis of war and uncertainty. They have just taken their final exams and must decide what to do with their lives: Ábel, the doctor’s son, is orphaned, living under the care of his aunt, and, while dissolute, acts as the conscience among the others; Béla is the scruples-less grocer’s son; Tibor and Lajos Prockauer are brothers of a prominent colonel off at war, the latter boy having lost an arm in battle; and Ernõ is the cobbler’s son whose friendship with the others allows him entrée into a more genteel society. It is largely through Lajos that the gang makes the acquaintance of an obese itinerant actor overstaying his welcome in town, Amadé Volpay, whose flashy, insinuating ways draw in the young boys. The gang falls into petty thievery and even cheating among themselves, and they begin to resent all forms of authority: “They felt that the system that worked against them and dragged them back acted as perniciously in insignificant matters as in great affairs of state.” Tibor sells his sick mother’s priceless monogrammed silver to the shady pawnbroker Havas for quick money, which will eventually allow the grotesque Havas to blackmail them when he learns about their dissipated nights drinking and dancing with the actor. Márai weaves in elements of latent homosexuality amid the tangled relationships of the men and frequent chest-beating speeches about the crumbling of class and society that all point to the overall “cleansing” wrought by the war.

A compelling novel that nonetheless carries the ponderous weight of the era’s events and ideas.

Pub Date: March 23, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-40757-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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