The Mahabharata meets Bollywood to powerful effect.



Debut novel of sibling rivalry, set in contemporary India but weaving in mythology and epic poetry.

Koonty, a high-caste, sexually innocent adolescent living in a village outside Calcutta, is raped by a visiting film star. The resulting baby, Karna, is set afloat on the river by his panicked mother, who is about to be married, with an engraved gold necklace around his neck. A year later Koonty, still racked with guilt, bears a legitimate son, Arjuna, who is raised in the lap of luxury by her husband’s aristocratic family. Meanwhile, Karna is rescued and adopted by a childless young widow who adores him but can barely eke out a living. Before her death she makes six-year-old Karna promise to find his mother. But Koonty turns him away, not believing he is her son until it is too late. Unbalanced further by her husband’s death at the hands of a local Communist rabble-rouser, she commits suicide. Her sister Shivarani, a political activist in love with lower-caste man, then sets out to find Karna. He’s become a street urchin and juvenile delinquent, but Shivarani (who serves as the story’s heart) brings him to live with his brother Arjuna and their family. Karna and Arjuna share the terrible loneliness of being orphans; both crave love, but their mutual jealousy drives them apart. They fight constantly, first viciously and then in more athletic and organized ways. They become film actors vying for the same parts and the same woman, then run against each other for political office. Their final competition, a car race, ends tragically, although at the close each finds a degree of redemption by recognizing the possibility of love and acceptance. More “exotic” than most current Indian fiction, this first by a British artist who lived on the subcontinent creates romantic characters of fascinating, painful depth.

The Mahabharata meets Bollywood to powerful effect.

Pub Date: July 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-00-713568-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Flamingo/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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