Like most bibliophiles, I discover plenty of books on my own. But every month, fellow readers (think Reading Club) suggest wonderful titles that I might otherwise miss. When The Vanishing Half was chosen, such was the case. Brit Bennett’s latest novel is a treasure. Enlightening, energetic, and deeply moving.
What most held me with this work was the existential question it asks. Who are we, really? Are we the product of our environment or are we the product of our genes and DNA? How much is related to the color of our skin?
In Bennett’s novel, African American identical twins Desiree and Stella Vignes escape Mallard, their hometown, when they are sixteen. They follow different life paths, but the most important divergence is their respective racial identities. Both are fair-skinned. Stella presents herself as white while Desiree represents herself as black. When the twins’ daughters meet, the sisters’ fates once more intertwine. The closely threaded stories unfold in the Deep South and California and span years from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Along with other adoptees I’ve met over the years, I’ve striven to reconcile my adopted self with the original version. I continue to search for answers. Outwardly, I lead a full, rich existence. Inwardly, there has always been a missing puzzle piece. Which is the real me? Yes, I am the daughter of Richard and Reva, the wonderful couple who adopted me after WWII ended. But also, I’m the daughter of Velma and Giovanni, the ill-matched couple whose marriage resulted from a pen-pal relationship. Velma was living at home in Iowa; Giovanni was a Navy man, out at sea. When World War II ended, so did the marriage. At age five, I was put up for adoption and landed, metaphorically speaking, in a very good place. Despite everything, part of me seemed absent. As I grew up passing as “the real daughter,” I felt the pain of a vanishing half.
Bennett’s masterful novel opened my eyes to those who “pass” for multiple reasons; it inspired me to learn more. If you’ve not yet read Brit Bennett, add this book to your winter reading list.
Join Elaine on Mondays for reflections on the writing, hiking and the outdoors, Santa Fe life, and the world as seen through adoption-colored glasses. Check out her newest novel The Hand of Ganesh. Follow adoptees Clara Jordan and Dottie Benet in their quest to find Dottie’s birthparents. Order today from Amazon or http://www.pocolpress.com. And thanks for reading!