THE WINTER'S HERO

The sequel to Aksyonov's Generations of Winter (1994) surveys the fortunes of the Gradov family of Moscow following their ordeals during the Stalin years and WW II, then continues their story in the postwar period through Stalin's in 1953. Aksyonov's omniscient narrator, a saturnine and jaundiced observer of his country's ``progress,'' suavely juxtaposes his characters' fates (as in Generations) against the march of history as glimpsed in excerpts from news stories and snippets of quotation from famous and obscure persons alike (in ``Intermissions'' that resemble the ``Camera Eye'' and ``Newsreel'' sections of Dos Passos's USA). Most prominent are Boris Gradov IV, a military veteran like his late father Nikita, and a hopeful successor to his grandfather ``in the Gradov dynasty of Russian doctors''; young Boris's aunt Nina, celebrated poet and great beauty, and her equally fetching daughter Elena, who catches the eye of a highly placed Soviet official, to her sorrow and disgrace; Nina's surviving brother Kirill, reunited, after years in prison, with his Jewish wife Cecilia (and compromised by her enduringly flamboyant Marxism); and a host of vividly rendered others who are related to the Gradovs by blood, or choice, or sheer historical accident. Stalin himself is once again a pivotal character, though the triumphant real-life portrayal here is of former secret police chief Beria, now a powerful Minister whose deviant appetites consume him as well as his victims. Aksyonov's plot turns on opportunities afforded young Boris, a talented cyclist, as the 1952 Olympics approach, and also reaches both backward to the Gradovs' past (specifically, the experiences of their adopted son Mitya Sapunov) and forward to the climactic test that the elderly Dr. Gradov must undergo, and to the courage he discovers within himself ``in the lair of the KGB'' and in the larger, more forgiving world outside it, into which, by sheer force of will, he emerges. In every way equal to its distinguished predecessor, this is a triumphant conclusion (unless, as seems possible, another sequel is planned) to an indisputably major work.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-43274-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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