I read The Vanishing Half in June but have finally got the time to do its review. I read this book as part of readwithnika book club on Instagram.
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 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.
Trigger Warnings: racism, Alzheimer’s disease, death, sexual violence, domestic violence, colourism
An inter-generational story containing themes of identity, family and race, The Vanishing Half is a must-read. I found the book unputdownable. Brit Bennett’s writing is lucid and uncomplicated, which makes this book, teeming with heavy topics, easy to read.
The story focuses on the Vignes twin sisters, Desiree and Stella’s life in their small town and later their escape to a large city. The sisters were so close that I found their later separation hard to believe. I found Desiree likeable and felt sympathetic to her circumstances. The first half of the book that tells the events from Desiree’s viewpoint, led me to dislike Stella. It was only later, when I read Stella’s part of the story, that I could feel some compassion for her. However, Stella’s entire life was built on a lie. I understood her temptation, on pretending to be white for a while, to make matters easier for her, but a lifelong of pretence only made things more complicated for her.
"People thought that being one of a kind made you special. No, it just made you lonely. What was special was belonging with someone else."
It was equally interesting to read about Desiree and Stella’s daughters, Jude and Kennedy and their lives intersecting with each other. Jude and Kennedy’s relationship was quite complicated as well.
The book jumped from one timeline to another, yet it never felt confusing. The only thing that felt amiss was the ending, which was too sudden for my liking.
Overall, I loved the book and am looking forward to read more of Brit Bennett’s work.