A work of extraordinary richness, suffused with genuine mythic power: comparable to the recently discovered fiction of Moses...



A brilliant central metaphor ties together several gripping stories in this compact epic novel (winner of a recent Commonwealth Fiction prize) from the South African author of Ways of Dying (below).

The western coastal village of Qolorha is where Camugu, a 40ish former resident of Johannesburg, comes after several years of chosen “exile” in America, where he became a “communications specialist.” Communication is precisely what’s lacking in Qolorha past and present, as Camugu discovers when his insistent sex drive thrusts him into various romantic and political rivalries and intrigues. For the village—and, by extension, the “new Africa” itself (upon the point of the death of apartheid)—is defined by a conflict that reaches back nearly 150 years: to the story of the amaXhosa tribe, who were persuaded by a teenaged seer named Nonquawuse to slaughter their cattle as a sacrifice to their gods, after which the amaXhosas’ ancestors would arise from their graves and dispel the British invaders who had subjugated their people. This resonant story (also told in John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing [1996]) of folly and self-destruction hovers over the present-day village, where descendants of “Believers” (who followed the seer’s instructions) and “Unbelievers” (who resisted), led by rival patriarchs Zim and Bhonco, carryon a “war” that provokes them to disagree in every imaginable situation. Mda explores both the comic and the tragic consequences of this contention to marvelous effect, in a fascinating dual narrative that contrasts the story of believer (Zim’s son) Twin’s ill-fated love for Bhonco’s Western-educated, “progressive” daughter Xoliswa with Camugu’s various pursuits of an elusive amaXhosa woman (NomaRussia), “educating” his retrograde homeland, and rediscovering his own “redness” (i.e., his ethnic identity—compromised and lost during his years in America).

A work of extraordinary richness, suffused with genuine mythic power: comparable to the recently discovered fiction of Moses Izegawa and Emmanuel Dongala—and not unworthy of comparison with the masterpieces of Chinua Achebe.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-52834-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet