Twin sisters cut adrift in a perilous, duplicitous world learn that “only the wise survive.” A formidable debut.

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BLACK SUNDAY

When things fall apart, four modern Nigerian siblings will need cunning to survive.

In this piercing, supple debut, a Nigerian father is scammed into ruin, and his wife, wearing her "favorite perfume, Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door," soon flees to New York. The couple had honeymooned in Spain and lived a comfortable life, but “my family unraveled rapidly,” says their daughter Ariyike, “in messy loose knots, hastening away from one another, shamefaced and lonesome, injured solitary animals in a happy world.” Ariyike sells water on the Lagos streets while her sister scrubs hospital toilets, their younger brothers both hungry and in need of school fees. All subsist with their complaining Yoruba grandmother. In a riveting sequence, Bibike helps her twin, Ariyike, transform into Keke to audition for an on-air radio job. A male acquaintance advises: “Dress sexy, be confident, smell nice, and if you are offered something to drink, ask for water first....If they insist, ask for something foreign and healthy, like green tea.” Keke isn’t chosen but leverages a position anyway by trading sex and plying her encyclopedic knowledge of Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels. Thus begins her rise in Christian radio. Sex—often predatory—forms and deforms all four siblings; the novel features several rapes. Chapters alternate in each sibling’s voice over a stretch of 20 years. The brothers grow up and move to Chicago and out of the story. Abraham stuffs her novel past brimming, but its sophisticated structure and propulsive narration allow her to tuck in a biting critique of corrupt colonial religion and universally exploitative men. “It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired,” says Bibike, whose voice opens the story. “It made people smile at me. I was used to strangers wishing me well. But what is a girl’s beauty, but a man’s promise of reward?” Bibike eventually becomes a healer who cherishes their Yoruba grandmother while Keke, the wife of a powerful and monstrous pastor, tastes ashes—the source of the novel’s title.

Twin sisters cut adrift in a perilous, duplicitous world learn that “only the wise survive.” A formidable debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948226-56-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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