The author’s take on fundamentalism can be polemic, but the characters, the poetry and the philosophical questions she...

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THE GEOMETRY OF GOD

Khan (Trespassing, 2004, etc.) fuses the romantic, the spiritual and the political in her story of two sisters in 1980s and ’90s Pakistan.

The same day that eight-year-old Amal finds an important fossil on a dig with her grandfather Zahoor, her baby sister Mehwish goes blind, supposedly from looking too long at the sun. Zahoor, a professor whose Darwinism is under attack by Islamists, encourages Amal’s curiosity, and she becomes a scientist, as well as Mehwish’s protector. Their grandfather also encourages Mehwish, who becomes a poet and narrates her sections of the novel in a playful made-up language combining English and Urdu. Six years after Mehwish loses her sight, the girls are noticed at one of Zahoor’s lectures by Noman, a young man whose father, a member of Zia’s Party of Creation bent on ridding Pakistan of Western science, has sent him to spy on the professor. An angry but dutiful son, Noman has relinquished his mathematical ambitions to write articles in his father’s name extolling strict adherence to Sharia, though he himself enjoys liquor and marijuana with nihilist friends. Meeting the enlightened Zahoor changes Noman’s life; he is increasingly torn between family loyalty and his intellectual awakening. When Zahoor is arrested, Noman blames himself and breaks with his father, then takes a job teaching math. Meanwhile, Amal, who also blames Noman, becomes a lab assistant (as a woman she is barred from doing actual fieldwork) and eventually agrees to marry longtime sweetheart Omar only if he will allow her independence. Noman, once drawn to Amal, discovers genuine, spiritual love for Mehwish, who slowly responds. As these private lives are about to reach fulfillment, political realities hone in. The consequences are tragic but not insurmountable.

The author’s take on fundamentalism can be polemic, but the characters, the poetry and the philosophical questions she raises are rendered with a power and beauty that make this novel linger in the mind and heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56656-774-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Clockroot Books/Interlink

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2009

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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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