I probably wouldn’t have got around to picking up this book if it wasn’t for the constant rave reviews and commendations I’ve seen everywhere since its release. I was interested in the elements exploring race but the family saga genre didn’t really appeal to me. But I’m glad I gave this a try. It’s an eye-opening, sweeping story which looks at relationships, race and identity. There are moments of pure brilliance here, and some characters I won’t forget in a long time.
It all starts in the 1950s in the deep south of America, in the small town of Mallard, rural Louisiana. There’s twins, Desiree and Stella – who long for more than the small-town, racially-charged life they’ve been born into and run away as teenagers to New Orleans. The two are identical – light-skinned black girls from the same background, and yet their personalities are polar opposite and their lives go in very different directions when Stella runs away yet again, this time leaving her sister behind.
So begins a sweeping journey across a changing America, about two girls who go down very different paths. Desiree finds herself back in her hometown with her daughter after running from an abusive, black, husband, while Stella starts a new life adopting the identity of a white woman.
“You didn’t just find a self out there waiting—you had to make one. You had to create who you wanted to be.”
The story follows multiple generations, some I preferred to others. My favourite part was Desiree’s daughter, Jude, her life in San Francisco and her relationship with Reese. I loved Reese and Jude and literally could have read a whole book about these two. But they slot into a bigger picture, and the scope of this book is epic.
Some characters you’ll love, some you will struggle to understand – but I think this just means they’re real. They’re authentic, messy and complicated and they give this reflection on life, race and identity a human face. A complex, sensitive and thought-provoking read with some gorgeous writing – here’s just a few examples.
“Her death hit in waves. Not a flood, but water lapping steadily at her ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe grief was the same.”
“The devil could love the woman he beat; the sun could burst through a rainstorm. Nothing was as simple as you wanted it to be.”
“This big ol’ world and we only get to go through it once. The saddest thing there is, you ask me.”