The Vanishing Half is one of the books I’ve read and heard so much about (thankfully no spoilers!) that I started reading it a bit fearfully. It happens at times with highly anticipated stories, and it’s mostly fear of disappointment. Fortunately, my heart was not broken … on the contrary!
The Vanishing Half in a nutshell
The Vanishing Half tells the story of Desiree and Stella, identical Black twins with skin colour so light that they could pass as white. They are both willing to escape the small rural community they grew up in and search for a better life … But the meaning of “better life” is very different for each sister, and they might be willing to sacrifice their relationship in search of the life they want.
It is a reflection on race and identity, about roots and new beginnings. As Brit Bennett said, it’s all about answering this question: “What do we gain and what do we lose in becoming someone new?“
I absolutely loved reading this book, especially because it was both an amazing AND educative story. It is a thought-provoking story that covers topics I was not aware of until now. For instance, I haven’t heard before of Black people with skin colour so light that they could pass as white. And I haven’t heard before of the idea of passing as something else from a race / cultural perspective- it blew my mind!
The story highlights the internal turmoil of the characters, but it is not the type of writing that gets the reader upset or depressed. Yes, that happened to me at least once, while reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (my review) – not the most pleasant reading experience from an emotional point of view 🙂
Raising awareness of colorism
Brit Bennett was inspired to start writing The Vanishing Half after hearing about a town of Black people who inter-married so that their children would get lighter and lighter. In addition, the story was fueled by the desire to raise awareness of colorism – the practice of showing preferential treatment to those with lighter skin colour within groups of the same race or ethnic background.
As I was saying, I consider The Vanishing Half to be a learning experience. The story illustrates how race is not only about the colour of the skin, it’s something deeper and more meaningful than that.
The story is fragmented, going back and forth in the past, but also skipping time spans. While I was a bit confused at first, the more I read the more I got used to the style. The fragmentation seemed very natural, and I think it helped focus only on the most relevant parts of the characters’ lives.
It’s interesting also how stories of different generations come together and how the decisions of the twins influence so much the destiny of their children. From this perspective, The Vanishing Half reminded me of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (my review) – also story of two sisters whose lives diverge.
The Vanishing Half is a story about secrets and transformation, family and identity, roots and new beginnings. It offers a lot of food for thoughts and it’s an immersive journey – beware, starting this book will definitely lead to a reading spree! 🙂
The story is will soon be an HBO miniseries, looking so much forward to it!
What are your go-to recommendations when some asks “what should I read next?” Let me know in the comments’ section 😀
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: you can find a comprehensive book club kit here if you’re looking for inspiration (discussion questions, interview with the author, and a cocktail receipe!)