This genre-defying novel takes on the limits of talent and ambition, fate and art in contemporary Europe.

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MASHA REGINA

A young movie director takes inspiration from her life in St. Petersburg.

Masha Regina is a provincial girl from a remote Russian backwater. She isn’t content there. “I don’t want to spend my life like you!” she tells her bus-driving father before taking off for the city. On the train, the teenage Masha meets a boy, Roma, who helps her find her way to a school where another young man, A.A., teaches; A.A. helps her to be admitted. Both figures end up playing important roles in Masha’s life. It turns out to be a prominent life. Masha grows up to be a film director, to make artful, influential—indeed, revolutionary—films of which all Europe stands in awe. Levental's debut novel, which was shortlisted for Russia's Big Book Award, describes those films in detail: they draw heavily on Masha’s various experiences, her vacillations between Roma and A.A. in particular. But the novel works on several levels at once and is replete with references from Pushkin to Gogol, Tom Stoppard to Star Wars and even Hegel. It’s a cerebral work that urges its readers to consider the limits of ambition, the price of making art. Masha leaves a trail of loved ones in her wake. Levental is concerned with something like fate: Masha wonders again and again if the decisions she’s making are truly her own. Is there any such thing as choice? After all, “in the final reckoning,” Levental observes, “seemingly very little really depends on our decisions in this life.” In this way, his characters—Masha, Roma, and A.A. among them—take on the qualities of Masha’s own characters, none of whom can escape the screenplays in which they appear.

This genre-defying novel takes on the limits of talent and ambition, fate and art in contemporary Europe.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78074-861-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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