A novel spanning decades and generations – Brit Bennett truly is an amazing author. The Vanishing Half will be a classic in years to come.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary
Date Published: June 2nd 2020
‘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’ storylines intersect?’ – Goodreads
Wow! This book is absolutely incredible and well-deserving of the sheer amount of praise and hype it has received. The characters are realistically fleshed out and the plot is compelling which is a testament to Bennett’s writing. There is something for everyone in The Vanishing Half.
The story begins in the small town of Mallard, Louisiana – a community built specifically for light-skinned Black people, with two of our protagonists, Stella and Desiree. The very nature of this brings up the issue of Colourism, which the novel comments on in depth. I also have to wonder whether communities like this were actually built? It would be interesting to find out. On Desiree’s persuasion, the twins leave their small town and move to New Orleans, where they separate and start vastly different lives.
Stella became white and Desiree married the darkest man she could find.
Stella’s struggle to keep her identity secret made for a unique arc and she does not always make for a likable character. Desiree, on the other hand, does not chose to partake in this life and returns to Mallard. I found her longing for her twin sister to be particularly moving. They are tied together not only through their blood, but through a traumatic event surrounding their father that they both witness. It was a fascinating look at how lives can separate and unite at any moment. The novel’s themes of race, privilege and Colourism are most prominent through their stories.
You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.
Normally, I love a good multiple-POV story. But this novel’s weakness lies in this very fact. Desiree and Stella’s lives intertwine again when their daughters, Jude and Kennedy, meet. Although I found the structure of this novel to be part of it’s uniqueness, I wish we could have spent more time with the twins and less with their daughters. I just loved reading about Desiree too much!
Nevertheless, Bennett’s prose is beautiful. This novel will be a classic in years to come.