With an endorsement from Bernardine Evaristo and a mention on The High Low podcast — the ultimate source of literary recommendations — it would have been wrong of me not to have read ‘The Vanishing Half.’
Stella and Desiree Vignes were born in a small black Louisiana community called Mallard, barely visible on the map. Founded by their ancestor in the mid-nineteenth century, what sets the community of Mallard apart is the fact that everyone who lives there has light skin. He wished to build a town for men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes. A third place.
Generations later, no matter how “creamy” their skin is or how “wavy” their hair, the twins are no more invincible to racism. Even at sixteen when they decide to run away to New Orleans, race factors into their lives and shapes their opportunities. After a few years, one sister abruptly leaves the other behind when she chooses to pass as a white woman – a decision that forces her to lie to her husband and daughter. Meanwhile, the other sister flees back to Mallard with her ebony skinned daughter who feels like an outcast because of her exceptional darkness. The choices each sister made will alter the course of not only their own lives, but that of their children’s, as well. A summary alone doesn’t prepare you for the journey you’re about to embark.
‘The Vanishing Half’ captured me from the beginning. Spanning four decades, I am in awe of how Bennett seamlessly tells her story from the alternating perspectives of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters. The regret, fear, and heartache that burden the sisters are so poignantly written that they were almost tangible. Bennett writes beautifully about race, family, grief, identity, unconditional love, class, and more without ever being preachy. The detail and delicacy aired in every sentence Brit Bennett writes is breath-taking.
Although I belong to a privileged group, similar to Evaristo in ‘Girl, Woman Other’, Bennett writes with such skill that she brought me closer to something new, something that I can never fully comprehend, but something I can only imagine causes immense heartache and fear. The media and the world around us continue to write the criminalising narrative of black people. Meanwhile, authors like Bennett are erasing their words and encouraging readers to unlearn the underlying racism that still lingers in society. Educating ourselves on universal injustices is paramount and this book truly made me think. This arresting story is wise, deep, compassionate, and any book that exposes realities and truly dares you to reflect is worth everyone’s time.
Overall, ‘The Vanishing Half’ will undoubtably leave a lasting impression on me, and it will leave the same on you, too. This was my first-time reading Bennett, but it won’t be my last. Through masterful storytelling, intriguing psychological insights, and remarkable plot twists, Bennett has created an immersive and unforgettable novel.
Thank you Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley for my gifted eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Click here for my review of ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo
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