Today I am marking off my thirty second #32nd checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:
Dialogue’s super lead for 2020. From the author of the New York Times bestseller THE MOTHERS, a powerful new novel about the parallel lives of estranged twin sisters who choose to live in two very different worlds – one black and one white.
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.
‘She always felt like the older sister, even though she only was by a matter of minutes. But maybe in those seven minutes they’d first been apart, they’d each lived a lifetime, setting out on their separate paths. Each discovering who she might be.‘
New York Times bestseller Brit Bennett follows on from the success of her novel The Mothers with The Vanishing Half. A story of sibling relations, race, identity, class and social conventions, The Vanishing Half is a thought provoking and morally complex tale.
The Vanishing Half is the remarkable story of twin girls, who are as thick as thieves in their childhood years, but when they reach adulthood they drift apart. Each sister chooses to take a very different life path. These identical twins grow up in the shadow of an African American only community, but when the girls reach the age of sixteen they decide to escape the oppressive township of Mallard for a different life. But the girls take alternative routes to leading their lives. While one twin continues to identify with her upbringing, the other twin adopts a contrasted lifestyle, which is far removed from her family roots. Burying her past, this sister forges a new life for herself and she identifies with a completely different culture. But the pull of family relations, chance and the past draws the twins back together as new connections are made via their offspring. Tracking years and decades, time and place, The Vanishing Half provides an insightful glimpse into family origins, the self and constructions of race.
Having heard a lot about Brit Bennett’s The Mothers around the traps, my interest was ignited in the second book by this well regarded US author. The Vanishing Half is a book that I feel is very current, timely and topical. It leaves plenty for the reader to consider.
What I appreciated about The Vanishing Half was the timeline structure. Travelling from the 1960s through to the mid-1980s, this is an expansive time frame. Divided into six different parts, we move through the years and decades with the Vignes sisters. Along the way we witness world events, key changes, social movements, political shifts and moral divisions. We oversee more personal episodes in relation to both sisters, as a duo when they are children, through to their separate identities when they enter adulthood. Throughout The Vanishing Half Bennett’s characterisation is clear and defined. Each sister is carefully realised and we come to know them as close confidants. There are moments of tragedy, light humour, drama, emotion and clarity. Bennett shapes her prose around these pivotal moments.
Bennett’s presentation of the small town of Mallard where the Vignes twins grow up, leave and one returns is carefully realised. This was an unusual township, marked by some complex relations in regards to colourism. Bennett tackles this angle of her novel with a passionate heart. It didn’t sit well with me personally, but I think it was an important area to tackle. This also applies to the moral questions surrounding the decisions one of the twin sisters makes in concealing her race and living as a white woman. With plenty of grey areas, The Vanishing Half would make a good contender for book clubs. Bennett takes a stance on issues of race, gender, class and identity throughout The Vanishing Half. There is also an additional focus on sisterhood, motherhood, family, upbringing, trauma, culture, personal choice and secrets. While I appreciated the exploration of these key areas, I think I did miss the author’s intentions and overall goal. This has happened to me recently with another highly regarded book, so perhaps it was more a case of me not understanding, or completely engaging with book, rather than the novel itself. With so many positive endorsements for this one, do have a look and see what The Vanishing Half has to offer, you may be pleasantly surprised.
*** 3 stars
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was published on 9th June 2020. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett, visit here.