Although Americans may find the historical terrain quite foreign, Chwin’s is a masterful and important work that brilliantly...

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DEATH IN DANZIG

The first English translation of renowned Polish novelist Chwin is a portrait of the bitter history of Danzig, the German city in Poland that suffered as much from the peace of 1945 as from the war that preceded it.

Although primarily known in the US today for the Solidarity strikes in its shipyards in the early 1980s that eventually brought down the Communist regime in Poland, Gdansk (formerly Danzig) was a focal point in WWII. A German enclave in the midst of Poland, Danzig was Hitler’s pretext for invasion in 1939—and the city consequently became the site of bitter retribution when nearly all its German nationals were killed or deported in 1945. The author (who lives there today) begins his account in 1945, as the Red Army approaches from the east and most of the citizens scramble to flee for points west. One of these is Professor Hanemann, an anatomy instructor from a distinguished Prussian family that settled in Danzig many generations before. Still grieving over the death of his lover (who drowned when an excursion boat sank in a freak accident), Hanemann can’t bring himself to leave Danzig, and so remains behind to become a kind of stranger in his own house. The narrator is a young man named Piotr whose parents moved to Danzig from Warsaw and took up residence in an apartment just below Hanemann’s. As a boy, Piotr takes German lessons from Hanemann, who is now regarded with great suspicion by the Communist authorities. In Piotr’s eyes, Hanemann becomes a figure from a ghostly, tragic past—just as his parents’ maid Hanka (a suicidal Ukrainian refugee) seems to embody the sorrows of the new order. Eventually, circumstances force both Hanemann and Hanka to make new lives for themselves.

Although Americans may find the historical terrain quite foreign, Chwin’s is a masterful and important work that brilliantly highlights the power of fate and the true anguish it can cause.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-100805-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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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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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