Title/Author: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Publisher: Riverhead Books
In a nutshell (Publisher):
From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.
My verdict: A page-turner; a timeless story on racism, class, identity, love and family. Truly deserves all the accolades it has received!
Set in the 1950’s to the 1990’s, this book takes us to a small town in Louisiana called Mallard, a place so small it cannot found anywhere on the map. Mallard was found by Alphonse Decuir, who inherited the fields from his father who was once his master. He wanted to have ‘a town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes.’
There in Mallard, were Stella and Desiree Vignes, black twin sisters, who, at 16, were forced to leave school and work with their mother as cleaners for wealthy white people. They felt stifled and suffocated by the town and its people and longed to escape. When they finally did, they fled to New Orleans, and started a new life. But one day Stella just up and left, leaving a shocked and heartbroken Desiree behind. Just like that, they went their separate ways. ‘You can escape town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.’
And almost three decades later, their paths crossed but in the most unexpected way.
What an immersive, thought-provoking story. Totally lived up to its hype! The story explored racism, class, identity, family, love, mother-daughter relationships and marriage, and its ripple effects on the twin sisters, their families and those around them.
Stella didn’t want to be black. She severed all ties with her family when she decided to live as a white person. Her decision to leave her past and her loved ones made her very lonely. Despite benefiting the freedom of being white, she never felt free. She kept to herself, never talked much about her past, and always distanced herself from others, even her husband and daughter. To fully play her role as a white person, she showed and expressed her dislike towards black people.
And Desiree, married the darkest man she could find out of spite, was so ‘grateful‘ when her daughter inherited her husband’s dark skin. Had she not thought, for one moment, the consequences of her actions? When they moved back to Mallard, her daughter, Jude, was bullied and called ‘Tar Baby’ by the kids in school.
There were many characters I loved in this novel. My favorite was definitely Stella. Her character, I find, was the most layered and fleshed out. Although I often didn’t agree with the decisions she made, I couldn’t fault her either. She did what she thought was best for herself and her family.
And Loretta Walker, her only black neighbor, was such a breath of fresh air. Her kindness, sincerity and genuine companionship made Stella feel ‘less lonely’, and she felt like she finally found someone who was like a kin.
I appreciated how love and its complications was explored so compassionately in this novel – the mother-daughter love between Desiree and Jude; the fraught and complicated relationship between Stella and her daughter, Kennedy; the relationship between Desiree and her boyfriend, Early, who decided that marriage wasn’t for them, and my…the relationship between Early and the twin’s mother, Adele, their quiet, unspoken bond towards the end, was so tender and touching.
Upon finishing the novel, I pondered, will Kennedy continue to live the life her mother created for her, or, will she, when tired of all the pretense, declare her true self? There was a point when Kennedy asked her ‘black lover’, if he’d still love her if she wasn’t white, and he replied, ‘No’, …’Because then you wouldn’t be you.’ And if Stella’s husband ever finds out the truth, will he still accept Stella for who she is?
And who, ultimately, will really feel freedom? Stella and Kennedy, enjoying their white privileges but forever looking over their shoulders, or Desiree and Jude, embracing their race, but suffer from racism? Or is there freedom at all for them?
With well-drawn out characters, a page-turning plot, mesmerizing storytelling, and timely and important themes, this novel is a must-read! It truly deserves all the accolades it has received!Tweet
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Have you read the author’s other book, ‘The Mothers’? Please share with me your thoughts!
Till then, Happy Reading and Stay Safe & Well!