A challenging, compelling work for readers who are willing to give it the concentration it demands.

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THE EXPEDITION TO THE BAOBAB TREE

An early-1980s South African novel about a female slave living in a tree receives American publication three decades after it was written.

Written in Afrikaans by a prolific playwright and poet (The Wisdom of Water, 2007, etc.), this belated appearance will likely attract most attention due to its translator, the Nobel Prize–winning novelist Coetzee (who translated the work in 1983). It’s a densely detailed novella, without chapters or named characters, narrated by a female slave who has passed through various owners and who plays chronological hopscotch while blurring the lines among reality, dreams and imagination. “My dreams fill me and help me eat time,” she says. “It no longer matters to me that I cannot neatly dispose of time and store it away and preferably forget it; for now I perceive that dreaming and waking do not damn each other, but are extensions of each other and flow into each other.” Thus, there’s a hallucinatory quality to the narrative, addressed to an unknown reader by a writer that reader only knows through what she reveals, some of which she dreams. “Only when I am asleep do I fully know who I am,” she says, “for I reign over my dreamtime and occupy my dreams contentedly. At such times I am necessary to myself.” As she moves from the tree in which she has come to live through her memories of the past, she tells of how she was sold into slavery, how her sexual attractiveness gave her some power, negated by her ultimate powerlessness, how babies she birthed were taken away from her, and how she ultimately ended up on an expedition that led to a slaughter that led to her home in a tree. The result is a meditation on humanity, mortality and time.

A challenging, compelling work for readers who are willing to give it the concentration it demands.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935744-92-4

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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