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. Ten 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’ story lines 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 Halfconsiders 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.
I find that the hardest review to write is often for a book that has affected me so deeply that I find myself at loss of words.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is no doubt one of my very favourite books, ever. Desiree and Stella were identical twins living in a black community in a small town in Louisiana. They were black but they also had such fair skin that they could easily be recognised as white. At 16 years old, they decided to leave their small town for a bigger city, for a better life. It was in this city that they eventually went their separate way. Desiree married a man with the darkest skin and Stella has become “white”. What followed in the next 300 pages were the consequences of their actions told through different characters’ perspectives, through 1950s all the way to early 1990s.
Brit has masterfully unfolded this heart gripping tale from start to finish. This story left me breathless. I felt confused, angry and sad; I felt embarrassed, numb and helpless; and then I felt maybe, just maybe there was silver lining at the end; that there was hope. This was such an eye-opening and powerful read that I have no doubt it would leave you thinking, thinking about all the wrongs and all the rights still happening around the world. It explored racism and inequality through the lenses of white skin color and black skin color; through “passing”; through family and friendship; through motherhood and sisterhood; through love and most of all, through life: the life we have lived and the life we have wanted for ourselves.
The Vanishing Half has filled me with so many thoughts and emotions. I love it so so much and it is the novel we all need right now. Please do read it.
Thank you so much Dialogue Books for this stunning copy to review!