A deeply impressionistic, compelling novel about a young girl’s life in the waning days of the British Empire.

Shades of Africa

KWASUKA SUKELA

A photo album in prose about the brutality of life in British South Africa.

Loshe’s debut novel offers glimpses into the unrelentingly sad and violent life of Shirley Schreiber in the British South African territories in the mid-20th century (now Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa). Shirley and her siblings are raised by her mother and a brutish drunk of a father who drags them from Durban to Port Elizabeth to the Transvaal and points north in search of work and, later, safety. Businesses are festooned with signs reading “Nee blanks nee” (Afrikaans for “Nonwhites No”), and the sound of tribal drumming fills the air. As the narrator, Shirley remembers and vividly recounts the almost incomprehensible cruelty of the men around her: her father bloodies her brother and mother, a close relative rapes Shirley herself, and revolutionaries behead a gentle servant and burn a woman to death in her car. The man she marries when she comes of age attempts to murder her twice, then threatens to kill their children. Halfway through the story, just as readers assume things can’t get any worse, they’re warned that “the terrifying ordeals that we had survived had only been the beginning.” This is not merely a collection of horror stories, however: Shirley loves the wilderness, enjoys sweet moments with her mother and sister, and feels joy. But because so much of what happens is narrated from a young girl’s point of view, these scenes carry a strange, varying weight: through a small child’s eyes, bouts of sickness and “Soft, yellow, baby chickens” assume the same narrative importance as rapes and beheadings. As a result, this is a novel of subjective reportage, not objective analysis. Still, though readers may not know why or even when events are happening, they’re always presented with vivid pictures of what is happening. Readers won’t be able to stop reading in order to learn more about this bad, vanished world.

A deeply impressionistic, compelling novel about a young girl’s life in the waning days of the British Empire. 

Pub Date: March 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5035-0365-6

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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LAST ORDERS

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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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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