The Vanishing Half a novel by Brit Bennett
Reviewed by Zanele Mukhari
The novel starts off in a small town called Mallard. A fictional town unlike any other, Mallard is inhabited by light skinned African Americans who are so light that one might mistake them for being white. So, when one of the protagonists returns after being away for 14 years with a baby so dark, she is “blue-black” the whole story begins to unfold.
Desiree and Stella Vignes, identical twins living in Mallard decide to run away from their small town to reinvent themselves in New Orleans. Their move to New Orleans leads them both down different paths and the once inseparable twins end up losing touch with each.
The Vanishing Half takes place between the 1950’s and the 1990’s and author of 2 New York Times best sellers, Brit Bennett manages to weave together those 40 years effortlessly, jumping from one timeline to another.
Bennett’s ability to incorporate a diverse number of themes in her novel from passing and domestic violence, to racism and LGBTQ issues has made this novel a timeless masterpiece.
When one twin, Stella, chooses to pass as white, it gives her the chance to live the life she has always wanted, a comfortable life filled with privilege and endless opportunities, with a doting husband and a beautiful daughter. However, Stella’s choices leave her living a life of discomfort, a life full of lies.
While the other twin, Desiree finds herself in an abusive relationship then eventually flees from her husband to protect herself and her daughter.
One of the major themes in The Vanishing Half is identity and Bennett has managed to thread this theme throughout the whole novel. From Stella and Desiree, to their daughters Jude and Kennedy, and even their daughters love interests, all these characters are seemingly searching for their true selves.
The influences of Toni Morrison and Nella Larsen are evident in the novel, from the use of the slur “tar baby” in reference to Jude, Desiree’s child, to the theme of passing by two African Americans. This novel will take you on a journey of self- discovery, filled with twists and turns that will have you at the edge of your seat.