CANNIBAL

A moving, albeit flawed, debut: the odyssey of a young woman searching for her identity on the plains of Africa. Profound and lyrical, occasionally didactic and clumsy, Svoboda's reflective first-person narrative wades through deep currents of emotion. The unnamed protagonist and her elusive lover are working on a cultural project. She records African songs and attempts to transcribe the lyrics; he's supposed to film the people at work and at play. But she has yet to see him pick up his camera, and he trades her cassettes for money, beer, and food, sabotaging her end of the project. The narrator, obviously low on self-esteem, doesn't protest when her lover eats food without offering her any (even though both are rationed to a single meal per day), nor when he uses supplies from her pack without her permission to pay for medical care for a sick woman and her feverish son. It's more than insecurity, though; she fears this man. When she grabs hold of a bat that she mistook for a papaya, she cannot cry out, because ``if I scream he will think I am afraid and then test me later in other places with that fear.'' She hears locals talk about her lover being a part of the CIA and wonders if it's only a joke; she watches silently as he ``fixes'' her tape recorder and returns it as a mess of nonfunctioning pieces. While readers suffer with her as she bemoans this relationship, we also get irritated when she rambles on about it: ``I wriggle and forget. I wriggle and forget and like it.'' Not until he steals her birth control pills and she stops menstruating does the narrator confront her fears and strike out on her own. But what she finds is just as complicated and painful as what she leaves behind. Sharp-boned writing that echoes for hours, but sometimes its message is confused.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1995

ISBN: 0-8147-8012-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1994

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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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