By the winner of the 2018 New Academy Prize in Literature, or the "Alternative Nobel" prize in literature, this novel follows two Guadeloupean twins with an unusually passionate bond—one that threatens to tip into the incestuous—who nonetheless take very different paths after moves to Mali and Paris: Ivan becomes a religious fundamentalist terrorist, while Ivana joins the police force.
... a rollicking, rumbustious and slyly mischievous Candide for our times ... the scattergun satire of this scurrilous picaresque takes no prisoners ... Condé spares no one. The rug is repeatedly jerked from under us with a mixture of awkward truths and ironic swipes ... Condé’s provocative fun cloaks a challenge: is there not more than a little bad faith in the way the west earnestly seeks the roots of jihadi radicalism while turning a blind eye to the flagrant ills that add rocket fuel to its meretricious allure? The novel’s parting shot, 'you can take it or leave it', leaves the ball squarely in our court.
Maryse Condé’s The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana is a gripping story ... Rich atmospheres are established ... Gritty, dank surroundings are contrasted with the clothes, neighborhoods, and homes of the well-off ... a searing literary portrait of the exploitation of immigrants, the corruption of governments, and the powerful emergence of radicalism, with astute commentary on how these elements breed trauma, generation after generation.
Few writers are as skilled at illustrating the ways in which personal abuses of power are not just the result but the praxis of cultural domination ... The conceit is deceptively straightforward ... The book is a reflection on the dangers of binary thinking, and the Wilde line 'Each man kills the thing he loves' serves as a kind of refrain for the mutually destructive passions between West and East, black and white, purist and pervert ... One is never on steady ground with Condé; she is not an ideologue, and hers is not the kind of liberal, safe, down-the-line morality that leaves the reader unimplicated.