Africa may be ultimately unknowable for the author, but this nonfiction novel, his debut, represents a thrilling partial...



An exceptional account of West African village life, written with enormous affection and you-are-there immediacy.

Jack Diaz is a white Chicagoan in his mid-20s, working in Ivory Coast for an aid organization. After training in Abidjan in the Christian South, he is sent to a village in the exploited Muslim North. Religious tensions will eventually erupt into civil war. In the village, he is assigned a mentor, Mamadou, who will be invaluable in teaching Jack tribal customs (he already has a smattering of their language, Worodougou). Underneath their Muslim veneer, the villagers believe in genies, witchcraft and, above all, the ancestors. Jack earns their respect by farming with them and shooting francolins, crop-destroying wild chickens. D’Souza’s work reads like a memoir rather than a novel, but his story needs the freedom of the novel, especially when it comes to sex. “If you don’t have sex, you’ll get sick,” warns Mamadou. The chief offers him a girl but she’s in her mid-teens—too young. There’s the beautiful Mazatou, but she’s a tease. There’s the equally beautiful Djamilla, a Peul (nomadic cattle herders). He’s granted permission to marry her, but loses his nerve. It’s all very tricky. He finds relief with a hooker in Abidjan and is fatalistic about getting AIDS, though later he launches an AIDS education project. The most troubling episode involves another village beauty whose husband lives in Abidjan. They sleep together; the mother-in-law, furious, sets genies on Jack, who practices his own, more powerful magic; the mother-in-law dies. In immersing himself in witchcraft, has Jack become truly African, or is he still a long-stay tourist? The war begins. Jack and his fellow aid workers experience a dangerous trip to the relative safety of Abidjan.

Africa may be ultimately unknowable for the author, but this nonfiction novel, his debut, represents a thrilling partial discovery.

Pub Date: April 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-101145-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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