THE VANISHING HALF: a Unique Dive into 20th Century Racism in America

The novel The Vanishing Half follows the lives of two white passing identical twins and their far from identical daughters during the mid to late 20th century America.

The twins grow up in Mallard; a town fraught with colorism and too small to even be marked on a map. Although everyone in the town is Black, the majority of the residents are extremely light-skinned, thus creating a strange in between society in a time where the Jim Crow binaries rule over all.

Despite the twins’ similarities, they have a profound difference: one chooses to embrace her Black identity, while the other chooses to outrun it. This causes the twins to lead two completely different lives: one black, one white.

The twins marry men with polar opposite looks: the first dark-skinned and the second whiter than white. Consequently, the first twin gives birth to a dark-skinned girl and the second to a girl with blond hair and violet eyes. As a result, these two daughters, although cousins, grow up in extremely different worlds.

As the book jumps back and forth between different decades, these worlds are prominently displayed and acutely show the varying degrees of racism that Black people of all shades faced in the mid to late 20th century. 

Despite the interest of the plot, it takes some time for the book to pick up speed and even when it does, it is still far from a fast paced novel. Additionally, the characters come off as two dimensional symbols instead of complex, developed characters. 

However, the eloquent writing, in-depth plot and unique nonlinear narration are enough to redeem The Vanishing Half from these drawbacks.

The ending, which some readers might find unsatisfying, is nonetheless fitting of the unfairness of racism and the cost of leaving one’s identity behind in the hopes of achieving a better life.

Even though the book has its fair share of shortcomings, The Vanishing Half is worth a read, especially for those looking for a deep dive into the effects of racism, colorism and discrimination.

Although the book was only published in June of 2020, it has already garnered enough attention to acquire a contract with HBO for its own series.


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