There’s a comparison to Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, but this unflinching look at a brutal era in a faraway place shares...

READ REVIEW

DREAMS OF THE RED PHOENIX

A missionary family is trapped by the invading Imperial Japanese Army in the "hard and disastrous land" that’s northern China, 1937.

Shirley Carson’s husband, Caleb, died in a mudslide while assisting resistance fighters. She grieves, leaving teenage son Charles to fend for himself. Caleb (appearing in a surprising narrative thread) and Shirley connect their humanitarian beliefs—"Humans are inherently good and cooperative"—with the lure of the communist ideal, but they’re oblivious: "there is much you do not know and much you will never know," a Chinese friend tells Charles, and the same applies to his parents. A Japanese attack spurs Shirley, once a nurse, to passionate action: she turns her home into a clinic, even treating revolutionary soldiers at the behest of Capt. Hsu, a man she admires as an exemplar of the Red Army. While Charles plans to return to America, Shirley wants to join the revolutionaries. Even as Charles sees Chinese friends turn away or reject him—"No more foreign devils here!"—Shirley becomes further entangled with the revolutionaries until she’s forced to make a not-quite Sophie’s Choice but one that leaves her morally bereft. Unfortunately, Pye’s (River of Dust, 2013) portrait of Charles grants him resolution and insight beyond teenage capacity. Pye’s other characterizations flex, grow, and live: the amah Lian, whose silent sacrifices sustain the oblivious Carsons; the Japanese commandant, Gen. Shiga, his silver flask a Princeton ’15 memento; Dao-Ming, a seemingly simple servant girl; and Kathryn, a dilettante teacher, who each stand as metaphor for the chasm of misperceptions.

There’s a comparison to Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, but this unflinching look at a brutal era in a faraway place shares truth in its own way.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60953-123-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more