#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2020 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES * THE WASHINGTON POST * NPR * PEOPLE * TIME MAGAZINE* VANITY FAIR * GLAMOUR
“Bennett’s tone and style recalls James Baldwin and Jacqueline Woodson, but it’s especially reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye.” —Kiley Reid, Wall Street Journal
“A story of absolute, universal timelessness …For any era, it's an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it's piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be….” – Entertainment Weekly
From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately 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. Many 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?
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.
As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Brit Bennett wowed us with her debut, The Mothers, and her second novel is equally riveting. The story starts in the late 1960s, when light-skinned black twins Desiree and Stella embark on starkly contrasting paths. Desiree marries “the darkest man she could find” and gets stuck in her rural Louisiana hometown, while Stella disappears to a wealthy L.A. enclave where she passes for white. Bennett moves briskly through two decades, as the fates of the sisters and their daughters become unexpectedly intertwined. Suspenseful yet tender, The Vanishing Half explores complex issues like racism, white privilege, and the many ways our identity is shaped by our origins. We’re still thinking about this stunning read.
Bennett (The Mothers) explores a Louisiana family's navigation of race, from the Jim Crow era through the 1980s, in this impressive work. The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, were born and raised in Mallard, La., the slave-born founder of which imagined a town with "each generation lighter than the one before." In the early 1940s, when the twins are little, they witness their father's lynching, and as they come of age, they harbor ambitions to get out. Desiree, the more headstrong sister, leads Stella to New Orleans when they are 16, and after a few months, the quiet, studious Stella, who once dreamt of enrolling in an HBCU, disappears one night. In 1968, 14 years later, still with no word from Stella, Desiree is back in Mallard with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude, having left her abusive ex-husband. When Jude is older, she makes her own escape from Mallard to attend college in Los Angeles. At a party, Jude glimpses a woman who looks exactly like Desiree except she couldn't be, because this woman is white. Eventually, the Vignes twins reunite, reckoning with the decisions that have shaped their lives. Effortlessly switching between the voices of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters, Bennett renders her characters and their struggles with great compassion, and explores the complicated state of mind that Stella finds herself in while passing as white. This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett's formidable debut.
One Possible Hitch
My husband is black and we were married in Los Angeles, California in the 1980’s. His birth certificate (issued in New York) and required to be produced for our marriage license, clearly states in the Color/Race section that he is negro and that both parents were negro. This may not have been, or be standard to birth certificates or a requirement for a marriage license in all states but it does add a possible hitch to certain aspects of the story.
Lives up to the hype
The Vanishing Half
This is a slow, meandering read. It was a book club selection of mine. If not, I would have put it down after a hundred or so pages. What I liked? It is an interesting proposition, light skinned twin girls who abandon their family and home town seeking a better life. Then Stella, one of the twins abandons her sister Desiree, as if into thin air, to marry and “pass” as white. Secrets compound upon secrets in this novel, but in a burdensome way, not in a way that drives the narrative or maintains interest.
The writing style neither inspires nor delights. The story of Reese and Jude? It seems contrived and strained. And we are to believe that Stella remained an emotional and historical blank to her husband their entire marriage? Marriage is about emotional intimacy and sharing.