This book has been long listed for the women’s prize 2021 and is a goodreads choice 2020 winner. I’d heard so many good things about the vanishing half that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it for myself.
It is a story about twin girls from a small town in New Orleans called Mallard, spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s. Mallard is a southern black community that Stella and Desiree Vignes, at the age of 16, decide they need to run from to start a new life. They run away together until they go their separate ways, one living as a white woman and the other living as a black woman. They both experience very different lives but they are ultimately led back to each other. One of the twins ends up returning to the town they had escaped from with her black daughter after escaping her husband/daughters father while the other passes as white, living with her white husband in their expensive estate home. Her husband knows nothing of her past and doesn’t have suspicions of her being anything other than what he knows. However when their daughters’ lives intersect they find they will always be intertwined with each other. The story spans many decades following the twins and their daughters over the years. The Vanishing Half is a beautifully written story about racism, social classes, family and love.
When I started reading this I was trying to get to grips with the characters and where the story was going to go, although I had seen good things about the vanishing half I wasn’t fully aware of the storyline. Once I got reading I found myself really enjoying the book and I am glad I initially pushed through the beginning. Once characters had been established and the story started to open up I found the story was beautifully written and was a really important look into racism and complicated family relationships giving a voice to these women to discuss hardships experienced trying to make a better life where racism is still rife, how black and white are ultimately just that.
“She felt queasy at how simple it was. All there was to being white was acting like you were.”
I did like the book and I would recommend it, I liked the characters and the storyline and the different view points that the story was told from. The story follows the Vignes twins, their daughters and their mother and explores how race affects lives and how although they lead very different lives they ultimately intersect with each other.
All the characters have fears and they are all very real fears to have. Fear of being alone that you lie to keep your life, even if you don’t feel like it’s your own.
‘She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.’
Fears of not belonging
‘There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong’
and Fears of not being accepted as you are and therefore denying yourself the chance to be happy
‘Well, maybe that’s your problem,” Kennedy said, “You tell yourself no before anyone even says it to you’
Although we can make judgements based on the characters actions and maybe think that we would do differently, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in their position and how I would live my life in their shoes. The characters are likeable and you find yourself routing for them and hoping they find their way and are happy and through it all I don’t think we will know but ultimately they have made their choices and they have grown from them and have had some good things and bad things happen but they are strong and just trying to be good people and good to their families.
There are so many beautiful quotes in this novel and I could quote them all day so please give this book a read and let me know what you think. Yes there are some questions unanswered but I think that’s part of it and it is so well written that you will not forget this book anytime soon.