The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
UK Publication Date: 11th June 2020
Reviewed by: Book Worm
One word review – Timely
This ARC was provided by Little Brown Book Group UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Netgalley: 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 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.
My Thoughts: From the very outset this reminded me of Passing by Nella Larsen, both books examine the same themes of what it means to “pass” for white and what someone would have to give up to make that change.
In The Vanishing Half Bennett uses identical twin sisters to examine the impact of race on everyday life and why it is that while some embrace their heritage others will live a lie in order to escape it. Bennett walks a sensitive line as she shows both sides of the arguments without condemning or condoning the actions of either sister. As a reader I felt more connected to Desiree and the choices she makes but it was actually Stella who had my sympathy. Stella’s whole life was a carefully constructed lie and that meant she was constantly on her guard waiting for it all to fall apart, what kind of mental strength does it take to live like that?
This book raises important questions about race and equality and what it is that makes someone “white” or “black”. The twins themselves have the choice to be either but their daughters are completely defined by the decisions their mothers took and how they have been raised. Relationships are also important in this book we see the relationships between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives and particularly the relationships between members of a community. Sexual diversity is also explored as another layer that also features “passing”.
“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”
“An office like that would never hire a colored girl, but they needed the money, living in the city and all, and why should the twins starve because Stella, perfectly capable of typing, became unfit as soon as anyone learned that she was colored?” How long before this is no longer an issue?
“There was nothing to being white except boldness. You could convince anyone you belonged somewhere if you acted like you did.”
“The hardest part about becoming someone else was deciding to. The rest was only logistics.”
“She could tell the truth, she thought, but there was no single truth anymore. She’d lived a life split between two women – each real, each a lie.” This quote breaks my heart.
Who would like this? I think everyone should read this to get an understanding of what it means to be a different, to understand why people would choose to give up who they are to “pass” for someone different and what that costs emotionally.
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