The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet is a beautiful and heartbreaking account about race, identity, individualism, and survival. I went into this book thinking it would be one thing, and finished it having read a completely different books. I laughed, I smiled, and I weeped. This is, without doubt, one of the books that I will look back on at the end of the year and will be so thankful I read it.
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? – Good Reads
For me, what makes this book so utterly stunning is the characters. This narrative is so character driven that you can’t help but feel utterly devoted to them. As we follow Desiree as she is forced to return to Mallard, the small town she fled with her sister years ago, her determination and strength to provide a safe space for her daughter is utterly heroic. I found Desiree such a phenomenal character, especially considering she was always kept in the shadows growing up in comparison to Stella. She was the unreliable one, the reckless one, the one everyone expected to cause trouble. Yet in the end, she’s the one who hands by everyone, sacrificing herself to be there for others.
The narrative spans generations, meaning we witness Stella and Desiree as they grow up and eventually escape, as well as looking at how their decisions regarding their identity in turn affects their daughters. Because of the way the omniscient narrative works you spend time within each character’s consciousness, it was fascinating to see each character’s interpretation of themselves and those that surround them. This was often so beautiful because you were witness to the doubt that creeps within them, and how unnecessary it was.
The concept of ‘becoming white’ and ‘escaping blackness’ was harrowing and heartbreaking, especially because both were only possible with the ‘white’ perception of identity. There was the suggestion that only to a white society were such ideas essential and dishonest, a performance rather that something integral to a person. A huge discussion within this novel is the idea of honesty and illusion, and I found the paranoia that consumes Stella completely harrowing.
This novel is tragic but so completely important. I was astounded by its beauty and speechless as it’s honesty. If your looking for your next read, look no further than this powerful novel.