Girl, Woman, Other a novel by Bernadine Evaristo
By: Zanele Mukhari
During the month of August South Africa commemorates Women’s month to pay homage to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956 in protest against the amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950.
What better way to round off Woman’s Month than with a novel filled with stories of women from all walks of life? Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, is a novel that follows 12 female characters (one non-binary) experiences as they make their way through life. Evaristo’s eight novel narrates a diverse spectrum of mostly female voices as their stories interconnect at various parts of their individual lives.
Having 12 main characters might seem a bit daunting when you first think about it, but the way Evaristo has managed to tell each characters story allows the reader to page through the novel effortlessly. Each chapter introduces us to 3 protagonists whose narratives weave into one another while going back and forth in time. We are first introduced to Amma, a feminist playwright who spends years trying to start her own theatre company that will represent black
and woman of colour. Dominique, who moves to America to be with the love of her life but soon realises she has made a mistake and Winsome, a mother who has an affair with her daughters husband claiming that it’s better she satisfy him rather than to have him leave her precious daughter.
The dedication in Girl, Woman, Other encompasses all the characters we come across in novel, from the main characters to their friends, family members and even their unexpected lovers.
One of the focal points in Girl, Woman, Other is the relationship the characters have with themselves and with those around them and how those connections and bonds play out in a patriarchal society. Bummi, a Nigerian woman who starts her own business after her husband dies and finds solace in a colleague and Penelope, who loves being a stay at home mother but yearns for more and makes no exceptions fulfilling her needs regardless of what her husband
says. Girl, Woman, Other disregards the notion of the (black) female experience being a monolithic one by introducing us to a range of characters of different ages, backgrounds and social status. Evaristo’s conscious decision to have her novel highlight primarily black stories while the white character in the novel are on the fringe, is a reminder of the importance of representation.
In this novel we navigate the multi-cultural web of a woman’s stance in society, from Carole who is making her way up the corporate ladder in a predominantly white-male dominated world, to Waris who wears her hijab in order to make a statement about her Muslim identity. The author has managed to address themes like racism, sexism, identity and self-discovery in a manner that brings forth various perspectives.
Bernadine Evaristo has encapsulated each and every one of her characters in this novel skilfully and even though she transports us across parts of Britain, Africa and America during various time periods, she successfully manages to tell the stories of a diverse number of people black and brown people dealing with the aforementioned themes in a predominantly white society extremely well.