And as with the novel, the influence of W.G. Sebald arises again here, not least in Cole’s addition of photographs that are...

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EVERY DAY IS FOR THE THIEF

A Nigerian living in the U.S. finds corruption, delight and ghosts on a return visit to Lagos in this rich, rougher-edged predecessor to Cole’s celebrated debut novel (Open City, 2011).

First published in Nigeria in 2007, this novella records the unnamed narrator’s impressions of the city he left 13 years earlier. His observations range from comic to bitterly critical, playing off memories of growing up in Lagos and his life abroad. Cole paints brisk scenes that convey the dangers and allure of the “gigantic metropolis” in prose that varies from plain to almost poetic to overwrought. The narrator says a woman holding a book by Michael Ondaatje “makes my heart leap up into my mouth and thrash about like a catfish in a bucket.” Bribe-hungry police, a vibrant street market, perilous bus rides, brazen home invaders: From the locally commonplace emerge sharp contrasts with the West. Coming to the market, for instance, he recalls an 11-year-old boy burned alive for petty theft. In the city’s many new Internet cafes, a “sign of the newly vital Nigerian economy,” teens write emails to perpetrate the “advance fee fraud” for which the country has become infamous. The returnee laments the dilapidation and skewed historical record of the National Museum before admiring the world-class facilities of the Musical Society of Nigeria Centre. It’s a graphic contrast that billboards questions bedeviling the narrator: Why did I leave? Should I return for good? What have I gained? Or lost? Such an exile’s catechism could serve with slight variations the many displaced people Cole writes of in the “open city” of New York.

And as with the novel, the influence of W.G. Sebald arises again here, not least in Cole’s addition of photographs that are much like the novella’s prose: uneven yet often evocative.

Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9578-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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