The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Twins fascinate me. I know at least seven sets, none identical, including my father. Besides the fact that his fraternal twin is his sister, the two look nothing alike. His complexion resembles peanut butter while hers looks like cashews.
I often wonder what life would’ve been like had my father had an identical twin brother instead. How different would he be? How different would I be? Would their life decisions be as drastic as the Vignes sisters in The Vanishing Half.
The Vanishing Half is an intriguing novel about identical twin sisters, Stella and Desiree. The two are born and raised in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana, which was founded by their great-great-great grandfather after being freed by his master-father. The girls have creamy skin, hazel eyes, wavy hair and dreams of leaving their small hometown. They do so at the age of sixteen and run away to New Orleans. From there, their lives take on drastically different paths. One continues to live her life as a Black woman, even marrying a “blueblack” dark-skinned man. Much to the dismay of the townspeople when she returns, she returns with his dark-complected child, whom people at first doubt is her biological daughter. The other sister decides to take her chances and pass for white. (Not a spoiler). She soon discovers that the grass is not greener on the other side. Though she lives a well-to-do life in California—where she ends up—she’s trapped in a living nightmare of being discovered. This particular theme of the novel gave me vibes of Nella Larsen’s Passing, which I ended up reading shortly after finishing this piece of historical fiction.
The novel not only focuses on the lives of the sisters. It’s a story of multiple generations that spans from the 1950s to the 1990s. Through these generational stories colorism, LGBQT issues, lost and found love are also explored. Each of these issues, of course, cause characters to grapple with and accept (or reject) their identity to define it on their own terms.
Even as a proud Black woman, I waffle on my opinion of the twin who opted to pass for white. I don’t agree, but understand her shaky reasoning. It was a different time back then. Times are still hard now in 2021. 2020 wasn’t the first time racial issues exploded in America, but it was certainly the first time they did to this magnitude in my lifetime. In The Vanishing Half, the same man is lynched twice: once at home and again from the hospital after he survives (To Kill a Mockingbird anyone?)
The Vanishing Half was a great novel. It is Brit Bennett’s second novel, but the first of hers I read. I can’t wait to dive into The Mothers when I get a chance.
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