Book Talk: The Vanishing Half: A Novel
“ This is sure to be one of 2020’s best and boldest . . . Bennett’s next masterpiece is a triumph of character-driven narrative. ”
About the Book
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.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ Brit Bennett's debut novel, The Mothers—about motherhood, female friendship, and finding love with a broken heart—was one of the most talked-about books of 2016. Four years later, Bennett introduces a new cast of characters, and like her debut, The Vanishing Half examines sisterhood, black identity, and parenthood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable in the ’60s in Mallard, Louisiana, a small town reserved for black residents with light skin. Stella and Desiree Vignes are tall and beautiful, and they dream of lives beyond the lynching of their father and housekeeping for white people, like their mother does. When they flee to New Orleans as teenagers, Stella discovers that she can pass as white, and so begins the fracture that will forever separate the twins. Stella disappears in California and continues to play the part of a white woman, keeping her past a secret from her husband and daughter. After leaving her abusive marriage, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, who is “black as tar.” Jude, desperate to find a place where she fits in, goes to college in California and discovers she was searching not just for herself but for her mother’s sister. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past. A riveting and sympathetic story about the bonds of sisterhood and just how strong they are, even at their weakest. "
—Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review
“ Bennett’s gorgeously written second novel, an ambitious meditation on race and identity, considers the divergent fates of twin sisters, born in the Jim Crow South, after one decides to pass for white. Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter."
—The New York Times
“ Bennett pulls it off brilliantly… Few novels manage to remain interesting from start to finish, even — maybe especially — the brilliant ones. But… Bennett locks readers in and never lets them go… Stunning…She leaves any weighty parallels — between, for example, racial and gender determinism — to the reader. Her restraint is the novel’s great strength, and it’s tougher than it looks… The Vanishing Half speaks ultimately of a universal vanishing. It concerns the half of everyone that disappears once we leave home — love or hate the place, love or hate ourselves."
—Los Angeles Times
“ I don't think I've read a book that covers passing in the way that this one does . . epic.” —Kiley Reid in O, the Oprah Magazine
Note: To order, please click here
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation "5 under 35" honoree, and her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.