A small treasure, from the author of the wonderful romantic comedy Addition (2009).

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NINE DAYS

Spanning World War II to 9/11, Australian novelist Jordan delivers a witty and wise family saga.

The novel begins in 1939 with Kip Westaway, a 15-year-old resident of a working-class Melbourne suburb. His father has recently died (having fallen, drunk, off a trolley car); they’ve had to take in a boarder; Kip has quit school to do odd jobs for the furniture shop next door. Kip goes about his day: a scolding from his sour mother, Jean, the usual jousting with his twin brother, Francis, a bloody knee thanks to the neighborhood hoodlums, comfort from his beloved older sister Connie, a brief chat with the most beautiful girl in Melbourne, the gift of a shilling from his kindhearted employer, Mr. Hustings—inconsequential events that begin to resonate with each ensuing chapter. Sixty years later, we find Kip’s daughter Stanzi in her office, preparing to frame her dad’s lucky shilling, until it disappears; perhaps her kleptomaniac client is to blame. This is followed by Jack’s story: The only son of Mr. Hustings, Jack has just returned from a rural sheep station and is at a crossroads: He wants to go back to the country but feels the pressure to enlist and fight the Nazis, then he sees Connie from his bedroom window and can think of nothing else. Skipping back and forth in time, from one character to another, Jordan builds a gorgeously layered story examining the innocent choices that shape a life, a family: the failures of favored son Francis, Kip’s grandson Alec’s fateful discovery, his mother Charlotte’s unplanned pregnancy, Jean’s heartbreaking maternal advice. Jordan closes the novel with Connie’s chapter. By now, everyone’s fate is known, but the love story between Connie and Jack—inspired by the novel's cover, a striking archival photo of a woman being hoisted up to a train window to kiss a departing soldier—is so romantically tragic, it feels that the story’s really been about them all along.

A small treasure, from the author of the wonderful romantic comedy Addition (2009).

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-92192-283-1

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Text

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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