Romantic-suspense fiction, however worthy Kohler’s aims, that isn’t strong enough to support its weighty objective.

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CHILDREN OF PITHIVIERS

With only medium success, the children’s concentration camp at Pithiviers is the inspiration for this indictment of French collaboration with the Germans in WWII.

The story is told by a South African woman living in the US who’s haunted by a sentence she found written in the margins of someone else’s book years ago: “Mother said everything would be all right; nothing seriously wrong can happen in France: Is it not the country of the Rights of Man?” In 1959, 17-year-old Deidre, or Dodo, was an innocent young girl studying at the Sorbonne when she became pregnant by her young French boyfriend. After an abortion, her sister and French brother-in-law pack her off to the country to recover. At the château, she meets and quickly becomes enchanted by her ageless hosts, the de C’s, first the Madame and then the Monsieur, who bear a striking resemblance to each another, inbred aristocrats that they are. Meanwhile, Dodo discovers a cache of old books (“the Rights of Man”) and magazines in the attic; she writes to her mother but receives no reply; her sister’s husband rebukes her for complaining about the aristocratic de C’s; she dreams of a drowning girl; and the squat Spanish cook, Dolores, slips into her bedroom to tell tales about her hosts. Young, naïve Dodo is isolated, with little money. A Frenchman gets her pregnant; and the aborting physician crudely takes advantage of her during the examination. And though she discovers that the cache belonged to two young Jewish girls who hid in the attic, she can’t decipher the messages, the warnings, found in the books. Finally, after a heady courtship by the Madame, who woos her with presents and a fancy party (bought with her mother’s money, unknown to her), she becomes easy prey for the libidinous Monsieur. Inevitably, death ensues.

Romantic-suspense fiction, however worthy Kohler’s aims, that isn’t strong enough to support its weighty objective.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58195-032-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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