A little-known historical event is brought to life in this stylized, creative retelling.



A debut novel infused with magic realism in 19th-century Sicily.

Petito-Egielski’s novel uses the history of the small Sicilian village of Bronte as a basis for a tale about unlikely heroes who break free from oppression. The narrator, known as Muntagna, has been living as a hermit far from his home village, where everyone considers him a coward. He’s haunted by the ghost of his cousin Alfiu, who led a peasant revolt against the British landowners but was killed for his bravery. Muntagna earned his reputation as a coward for not taking part in the revolt. Alfiu’s ghost wants Muntagna to look after his daughter, Gratia, whom he knows to be in danger. Muntagna returns to Bronte in the form of a dog and spends his days spying on Gratia through windows and doorways. Alfiu’s widow has gone crazy with grief, but she’s sure her daughter can redeem everything by murdering the wealthy landowners in the castle. Gratia’s life is a difficult one; thankfully, though, Muntagna’s wife, Vincenza, keeps an eye on her. Shunned by the village for her wild red hair, which villagers fear marks her as a daughter of the devil, Gratia becomes friends with another outcast, a shepherd boy. When a deadly illness sweeps through Bronte, the healing arts that Vincenza has taught her lead to Gratia being called into service at the castle. Now within range of those whom her mother expects her to murder, Gratia finds herself questioning her duty. Touches of magic and fantasy color this historical tale, with Gratia able to summon magical powers to help her in times of need. Muntagna tells the story in a colloquial, sometimes-poetic style with passages such as “ ’Neath the sheets that August night, I was safe from peasant madness. ’Neath the sheets that night, I was a coward through and through.” The narration and dialogue are filled with Italian words and phrases, some translated, some not—a style that further slows the book. Patient readers will be rewarded with a satisfying conclusion.

A little-known historical event is brought to life in this stylized, creative retelling.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989471107

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Amuninni Press

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2014

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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