A lively tale of magical realism that occasionally stumbles in attempting to wow you, offering a rather superficial analysis...

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THE FAIREST AMONG WOMEN

Birth, death, three husbands, eight children, and a few grumpy ghosts are just some of the details in the grand life of Rosa, courtesy of Israeli novelist Horn (Four Mothers, 1999, etc.).

Rosa is born during Israel’s War of Independence, and her fantastical life begins shortly after the murder of her father. Raised by the thin, dour Angela, who makes a tidy living by reading her neighbors’ coffee grounds, young Rosa first finds fame as the most beautiful baby born to the new state. Salons rename a hairstyle for her perfect blond ringlets; strangers on the street stare at her loveliness. She lives a charmed life, though not untouched by the tragedies of the greater world: her best childhood friend is a Holocaust survivor (she learns arithmetic from the numbers tattooed on his arm), and she’s haunted by the little Arab girl whose usurped house she now lives in. At 14, she marries her uncle Joseph, and, despite the unusual union, they share a happy life and raise seven children. When their eighth is born, Rosa is in her 50s, and she makes headlines again, but her daughter Angel is hunchbacked and will never grow in size past the age of two, fulfilling Rosa’s secret wish that her children stay small forever. In accordance with a childhood game that predicted Rosa would have four husbands, Joseph falls into a decline and soon dies after seeing the deformed Angel. Husband number two, a childhood sweetheart, dies in a bizarre accident involving Rosa’s again-newsworthy weight gain; husband three is an artist seeking to paint the country’s most famous woman. Rosa’s zest for life, food, and sex ease the anguish of her husbands’ deaths (their ghosts are in bed with her at night), but it’s Angel, perhaps a demon of bad luck, who challenges Rosa’s will to live.

A lively tale of magical realism that occasionally stumbles in attempting to wow you, offering a rather superficial analysis of its hero. Still, an entertaining folly.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26590-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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