Overly broad but brilliant.



Yan (The Four Books, 2015, etc.) returns with renewed vigor to the job of lampooning communist orthodoxy, capitalist ambition, and “contemporary China’s incomprehensible absurdity.”

Yan puts what he calls “mythorealism”—a blend of fabulation, wishful thinking, and willful suspension of reality—to work in his yarn of a village flanking the Balou Mountains, a geographical entity familiar to readers of his Lenin’s Kisses (2012). Nothing much happens in Explosion, a hamlet founded by a hundred-odd refugees from a long-ago volcano. Most of those people, Yan tells us, were named Kong or Zhu, and most “claimed to be descendants of Confucius, though there are no genealogical records to corroborate this claim.” Alas, the newest generation of Explosionites lacks the conservative Confucian impulse to leave well enough alone, and soon a hutful of Kong brothers (“Our family will produce an emperor,” says their mother, “but I don’t know which of our four sons it will be”) is vying to consolidate power against the resistance, intentional or not, of their fellow villagers. Says one would-be king Kong to his more effectively ambitious sibling, “My brother, your entire life you have been foiled by women.” True enough. Yan’s yarn might have been more fun if it had tacked into Lysistrata territory, but as it is it has the absurdist feel of an Ionesco or Dürrenmatt piece, though without any of the heavy-handed obviousness. Indeed, his satire is careful and crafty: we all know that when Kong Mingyao says to Kong Mingliang, “Brother, we are truly corrupt,” he is speaking of every Chinese official who would sacrifice the public good for private gain. As it is, the premise is so sweeping—a cabal of Explosionites decides to take their city from whistle-stop to mega-metropolis in a generation, going from hundreds to tens of millions, and all sorts of mayhem ensues—that it can be read as a kind of Swiftian satire, which probably won’t do much to keep Yan out of trouble with the censors in Beijing.

Overly broad but brilliant.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2582-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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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 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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