I’m not sure why I bought “Girl, Woman, Other” during a late night shopping spree at the local English bookstore. I loved the cover, that’s for sure. I also vaguely remembered that it was recommended as being similar to “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, a book I loved. So I simply bought it. No expectations, no strings attached.
Girl, Woman, Other in a nutshell
“Girl, Woman, Other” tells the stories of 12 Black British women, aged 19 to 90+. It is an interesting blend of diverse experiences with focus on the leitmotif of identity – personal, cultural, and artistic. The book also covers themes such as feminism, politics, racism, relationships and sexuality.
The selling point for me, though, is the inter-connectedness of stories. Each chapter illustrates the story of a woman, and through each story we also meet other women from the book, seen through different lens.
I enjoyed a lot reading this “Girl, Woman, Other”! What I liked most is the wide range of diversity and the high intensity of human experiences that Evaristo put together in the stories. Take a look at these examples of life paths illustrated in the book:
- study at Oxford and become an investment banker
- live a simple life on a farm
- be a transgender activist
- write plays and be a theatre director
Quite an interesting variety, right?
Back in 2017 I wrote a post about diverse books where I argued that the diversity level depends a lot on the person reading it. A book that is diverse for a Canadian girl might not be diverse for a boy born in China. Well, “Girl, Woman, Other” is a diverse book for me, as 90% of the experiences illustrated in the book are totally out of my bubble.
When I first opened the book I had a shock – the whole text was written like a poetry! Was I going to read a 400+ pages long poem? Not really. The book is written in prose using many line breaks. Evaristo calls this type of prose “fusion fiction” – a writing style that “pushes prose towards free verse, allowing direct and indirect speech to bleed into each other and sentences to run on without full stops” (London Review of Books, 2019).
It took me around 15-20 pages to get used to the writing style, but after that it got me hooked on. Despite the lack of full stops, most sentences are fragmented, so the reader gets a visual hint about the end of the sentence. It’s not like the stream of consciousness style where you have a whole page full of text, without any punctuation mark.
The Adinkra symbols
Evaristo does not only play with written words, but also with illustrated African wisdom. Each chapter starts with its title (usually the name of the woman) and a traditional Adinkra symbol. Adinkra symbols have a twofold purpose: enriching from a visual point of view, as decoration, and conveying a message of wisdom.
This puzzle put together by the writer is quite witty. For example, the symbol on the first page of the book – Funtumfunafu – (on the left in the image below; you can also see it in the book picture above) refers to “the cultural ideals to uphold unity in diversity“. Another example is Obi-nka-obi – “to ensure harmony in a hierarchically structured chieftaincy system” (Philip Owusu, 2019).
“Girl, Woman, Other” is indeed similar to “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi. The book written by Gyasi is a beautiful and heartbreaking saga of multiple generations descending from Ghana. The structure of both books is episodic, each chapter presenting a different character of the story. The two books are also similar in terms of themes such as racism and (lack of) integration of black people.
It is worth mentioning that “Girl, Woman, Other” won the 2019 Booker Prize – Bernardine Evaristo is actually the first black woman to be awarded the Booker Prize. The 2019 award was also received by Margaret Atwood with her recent book, “The Testaments”. Having enjoyed “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Atwood’s book is on my reading list!
I can certainly say that “Girl, Woman, Other” is a book that brings together unique elements and blends them into a fascinating story. It is “a breathtaking symphony of black women’s voices” (The Washington Post, 2019) sprinkled with innovative narration (fusion fiction) and traditional African symbols – a complete book that I heartily recommend!
I would like to read more books by Evaristo! Have you read any books written by her? If yes, which one(s) would your recommend?
‘Till next time … happy reading!
The phrase from the title of the post is quoted from The Washington Post (2019).