Joyously anchored in the physical world, steeped in storytelling, a delight from start to finish.

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STONE UPON STONE

Epic novel of rural Poland from two-time Nike Prize winner Mysliwski (The Palace, 1991, etc.).

A nonstop river of narration limns the long, eventful life of Szymek Pietruszka. In his wild youth before World War II, all Szymek wanted to do was drink, dance, fight and sleep with all the girls. After the Nazis invaded Poland, he joined the Resistance; following the war he nonchalantly held down various jobs in town: police officer, haircutter, civil servant. Yet in the end he returned to the small family farm, immersing himself in the rhythms of planting and harvest that ordered his father’s life. Two of his brothers had moved to the city; a third, Michal, was swept up in the communist revolution, but came home a shattered man who never speaks and must be cared for by Szymek. Not so easy, since Szymek’s legs were badly damaged when he was struck by a car while taking his horse-drawn wagon loaded with sheaves across the new paved road that divides his village. The world is moving on, warns the party functionary who refuses to approve his request for cement to build a tomb (that’s not on the list of approved uses): “You can’t live with a peasant soul any more.” But the flow of salty, earthy talk from Szymek, his family and fellow villagers suggests that peasant ways will survive even the invasion of tourists looking to sample “traditional” culture without actually experiencing the boredom of tilling a field or milking a cow. Cognizant of the brutal realities that govern people tied to the land in a close-knit, quarrelsome community, Mysliwski reminds us of the pleasures inherent in such illusion-free existences. “You have to live,” says the storekeeper who cheerfully beds down with Szymek (or any other man who strikes her fancy). “What else is there that’s better?”

Joyously anchored in the physical world, steeped in storytelling, a delight from start to finish.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-9826246-2-3

Page Count: 534

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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