I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to write this review. The story still resonates within me; simple, and yet hauntingly beautiful. Soul-devouring and yet hopeful.
I still have no idea how to write this review so I’ll start with the characters since those will be who make or break this book for you.
Desiree and Stella Vignes, twins, grow up in Mallard; a small town not on any map comprised of mostly coloured inhabitants. In addition to the ever-present racism of the time – we’re starting in 1968 – the inhabitants of Mallard are proud of their town which was founded by a man for “men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes.”.
Adele, their mother, whose husband – their father – has been murdered by white people for no particular reason, stays in Mallard for all her life whereas Desiree and Stella flee it as soon as they reasonably can, at 16.
While at first both twins stay together in New Orleans, Stella ultimately leaves her sister behind to pursue another life – “passing over” into a “white life” with a white husband, Blake Sanders, and their soon-to-be daughter Kennedy.
Desiree stays behind and goes on to marry the “jet-black” Sam Winston from whom she soon conceives her daughter, Jude. Sam turns out to be a violent abuser, though, and so Desiree flees with Jude back to her hometown Mallard and her mother Adele. Jude, being “Blueblack”, never has a chance in Mallard and takes the first real opportunity to leave. Not in the dark of the night like her mother and aunt but – a new generation’s privilege – openly to build herself a new life.
Over the decades (covering mostly the 60’ties to the 90’ties of the 20th century) we’re following the fates of both “The Vanishing Half”, Stella, Desiree and, most importantly, those of their children, Jude and Kennedy.
Because, almost inexplicably, the lives of both Jude and Kennedy intertwine and while they stay just shy of friendship, Jude and Kennedy build upon the familial bonds they share.
Much more than that, though, Jude immensely grows through her relationships: Her friendship with Barry who likes to become Bianca or her sometimes-rocky but unending, boundless and unconditional love of her partner, Reese.
In fact, the relationships in “The Vanishing Half” are what makes this book so immensely appealing to me. Their credibility and the truthfulness of the emotions displayed raise this book far beyond the ordinary. And, yet, the book is also very, very accessible – no stilted or complicated language, simple truths expressed effortlessly…
»When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be.«
Take into account the beautiful and weirdly fitting cover and you get a book that will stay with me for a long time, I think.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for what it achieves – and effortlessly at that.
»She did not know that Jude and Reese had talked, once or twice, about marriage. They wouldn’t be able to, not without a new birth certificate for Reese, but still they talked about it, the way children talk about weddings. Wistfully.«