The Vanishing Half was a layered story about identity, race and family. Stella and Desiree are twins who are light-skinned Blacks who live in a small town in Louisana, who as teens run away to New Orleans. Stella begins to experiment with passing as white and gets a job as a secretary where no one knows she is colored. When her boss takes a romantic interest in her and asks her to move, she takes the opportunity to escape, surprising Desiree with her sudden clandestine departure. Understandably devastated, Desiree later marries a Black man and has a dark daughter. When the marriage becomes abusive, she escapes back home with her daughter Jude, moving back in with her widowed mother. On the other hand, Stella marries her white boss, and while it is a happy marriage, she keeps her background from her husband and her blonde daughter Kennedy.
The story slowly unfolds, first with Desiree’s perspective, then Stella’s, and eventually Jude and Kennedy’s. Stella’s story proved to be the most engaging for it was interesting to see the justifications that she used to justify her abandonment of her sister and mother. She had to deny her past and family, and there was a self-loathing involved that was hard to bear. In an improbable twist, Jude and Kennedy meet as young adults in California and then again years later in NYC. The dance these cousins do, weaving in and out of each other’s lives and the secrets they reveal, yet also keep from one another is both frustrating and heartbreaking.
In addition to the story about the sisters and their daughters, the narrative also includes a transexual character that is treated with respect and gives a nuanced view of their life- which also includes secrets and abandonment of family. The issue of leaving or being left behind is also touched upon with Desiree’s long-term boyfriend. I found these stories sad, as no character seemed to have strong ties with anyone- their secrets kept them from establishing true ties of friendship or love with other people around them.
As someone who suspects that a great-great-grandmother was Mulengeon (tri-racial), I found this story of passing especially intriguing. Is leaving your family, your friends and your heritage worth it? This book gave me a lot of food for thought- and was a story I will think on in the days ahead.
Leave a Reply