Unconventional and memorable.



Age-indeterminate Hiroshima survivor and 20-something librarian form an unlikely alliance while studying cloud-seekers in Audeguy’s debut.

The shadow of W.B. Sebald looms like cumulonimbus over this novel. In his Paris hôtel particulier with its glassed-in third story, Japanese designer Akira Kumo is briefing Virginie, whom he’s hired to catalogue his considerable archive on the science and art of cloud observation. Structured as a series of tales exchanged by the pair, the action ranges across two centuries of weather, depicting Quaker missionary Howard, the first man to classify clouds (c. 1802), Carmichael, whose sky paintings eventually drove him mad, and most exhaustively, Richard Abercrombie, an explorer and scientist who journeyed the globe hoping to best his rival, Williamsson, with a photographic atlas of world climates. A mushroom cloud has shaped Kumo’s life: His true age (in 2005) could be anything from 71 to 80-plus, due to destroyed birth records, his suppressed memories and his compulsion to continually start anew. Gradually the truth emerges: His parents died in air raids, and his sister was vaporized by the bomb at Hiroshima—Kumo was saved because he was skinny-dipping in a pond. He sends Virginie to London to scout out the missing lynchpin of his collection: the fabled Abercrombie Protocol, supposedly the compendium Abercrombie completed after his world tour. After a brief affair with Abercrombie’s grandson, Virginie secures the Protocol. She returns to Paris to find Kumo wheelchair-bound after an abortive suicide leap off his balcony. The Protocol chronicles Abercrombie’s disillusionment in a Borneo jungle as he witnesses the death of a noble orangutan at the hands of boorish Englishmen. Abercrombie, a 49-year-old virgin, becomes a determined libertine: The Protocol, it will appear, is largely photographs of women’s genitalia. Bent’s supple translation enlivens potentially dry meteorological meditations. Readers might wish for more stage time with Kumo and Virginie, which is not possible in a novel that exalts intersecting motifs over character.

Unconventional and memorable.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-101428-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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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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