The story’s transitions aren’t always navigated as deftly as Kim intends. But his own empathetic gifts applied toward even...

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I HEAR YOUR VOICE

A pair of alienated, hypersensitive South Korean boys seek solace, first from each other and then from the volatile subculture of their homeless, aimless peers.

Kim (I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, 2010, etc.), a prolific and eclectic Korean novelist, has found artistically fertile ground in the broken lives of his country’s misfits. And it would be difficult to imagine two more marginalized protagonists than Jae and Donggyu. Jae, born in Seoul's Express Bus Terminal to a homeless teenager, is destined from the start to repeat his mother's fate. A few years later, Jae, who's been adopted by a “hostess club” kitchen employee, meets Donggyu, the son of a police detective, and they forge a lifelong bond. Jae is the only person who can communicate with Donggyu, who for years will not say a word to anyone. Jae’s ability to be “the interpreter" of Donggyu's desires foretells psychic gifts that help him not only survive, but prevail when he’s compelled to forage through the city’s meaner streets of criminals, prostitutes, and teen runaways. Though Donggyu eventually shows his ability to speak, he remains more a watchful listener as he witnesses Jae’s transition from grubby, emaciated street rat to charismatic leader of one of the many motorcycle gangs racing and roaring with aimless swagger through the city’s streets. The source of Jae’s power seems to be his omnidirectional empathy not merely with people, but with animals, plants, and even inanimate objects. (“If a being experiences extreme suffering, I feel it, too," he says.) Donggyu, being the first to recognize Jae’s gifts, eventually becomes a motorcyclist himself, investing his less messianic but just as intense degree of empathy into the other wayward youths drawn into Jae’s circle. Like the shifting gears of an engine, Kim’s narrative changes perspectives from Donggyu’s first-person recollections to wide-screen omniscience to the point of view of an enigmatic police officer and even to that of the author himself, following a climactic motorcycle rally whose stunning denouement leaves behind many more questions than answers.

The story’s transitions aren’t always navigated as deftly as Kim intends. But his own empathetic gifts applied toward even the quirkiest and seediest of his characters evoke a vivid panorama of what life along the edges is like in Seoul.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-32447-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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