Thorough and thought-provoking.

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THE LAST COMMUNIST VIRGIN

STORIES

Seven interconnected stories chronicle the multifaceted, often ugly life of the 21st-century Chinese immigrant.

Wang Ping begins her inquiry into the Chinese immigration experience on the mainland—specifically, in a Navy compound of family apartments on the East China Sea, where the only thing that a pair of sisters has in common is their desire to eventually have a bed to themselves. In the first story, “Where the Poppies Blow,” the plain, practical narrator grows a secret garden in the yard of the wealthy admiral, whose twin daughters have befriended the narrator’s charming younger sister. But in the following story, “Crush,” which presumably features the same pair of sisters, the narrator gets the upper hand. The family shelters a neighboring family from an onslaught of bullets. While the sister tries to charm the handsome neighbor boy, he is interested only in the narrator and her storytelling abilities. The sisters foreshadow Wan Li and Jeanne Shin, characters in two later stories, which take place after the women have immigrated to New York. In the title story, Wan Li is a prudent student who flits between rat-infested apartments in Flushing and Chinatown, working in restaurants while attending school. Though she improbably hooks rich, handsome Chinese playboy Peng, Wan Li doesn’t give in to the temptations of the capitalist West until she finds herself at the mercy of her mysteriously generous landlord, Genji. Meanwhile, Wan Li’s classmate, Jeanne, who narrates “Forage,” finds money and possessions all too alluring, and uses her body to attract the likes of Tiger (also the narrator of “House of Anything You Wish”), who mourns the wife and son he lost to a white man. Though well linked, the seven stories function independently, which not only speaks to the author’s narrative abilities, but also serves as a poignant metaphor for the splintered community she describes.

Thorough and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-56689-195-7

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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