The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Categories: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
First Publication Date: June 2nd 2020
Synopsis: 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.
The Vanishing Half has been on my radar since the first early reviews came out raving about it – the reason why it took me so long to read it is actually very petty: I detest this kind of cover. I just do. Luckily, the Women’s Prize for Fiction seems to make their decisions not based on the cover (I’m squinting at all the ugly covers, though)!
I am so, so glad to have read this novel – it’s honestly one of the best I’ve read all year. I am very partial to stories with several narrators whose lives intersect, and I thought this was brilliantly executed. This has become popular also among non-lit fic readers, with its more commercial appeal and quite pace-y narration. I love it when a popular book is actually worth the hype – I adore lit fic but it’s so hard to recommend it to people I know in real life, but this one I have already recommended to my sister and my mom.
The Vanishing Half is a very observant novel, exploring the psychological lives of these characters who make very different choices and their reasons for it. This book made me love and understand even characters that I objectively disliked – and this speaks volumes for me about the talent of Brit Bennett. Each one got a nuanced exploration of their identity, their relationship with colorism and racism, with family and with their pasts, which were all very interesting to read. The commentary on “passing” as part of the US history was so fascinating. I will be reading Passing by Nella Larsen soon as sort of a companion read to The Vanishing Half – I got the idea after reading that Emily planned to do that, and I thought it sounded so wonderful.
I really enjoyed this book and I think it will also be a fantastic read for anyone interested on the synopsis, even if you normally would not gravitate towards literary fiction.