Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

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When I finished this book I had one of those rare moments when I was so overwhelmed by its beauty that tears came to my eyes.  When the full impact of its wonderful structure became evident at the end, I felt such elation.

Evaristo is the co-winner of the Booker Prize this year for this book. She tells the stories of a dozen characters who have ties to each other; sometimes the ties are tangential, sometimes closer. Evaristo is one of those authors who loves her characters and makes me love them too. They are almost all women of color in Britain and most are in the LGBTQ community.

Amma comes first:  a black lesbian playwright in her fifties is finally having a play open at the National after years on the radical fringe. We meet her the day her play is to open and learn her story. She couldn’t bear a relationship of more than a few weeks and left a trail of broken hearts. She remained partners in theatre work for a time with Dominique after their sexual connection ended. Then comes Dominique’s intense story of her life in the US. And then Amma’s daughter Yazz:

Yazz is college-age and tells about her best friends:  “Waris [a Somali woman] says yes to the hijab and sex outside marriage, no to booze and pork” and “Nenet says she expects to start drinking after a few years of marriage to Kadim when he takes on his first official mistress, which is what happened with her own mother” Her friend Courtney grew up on a farm and defends herself when told to check her privilege, “Courtney replied that Roxane Gay warned against the idea of playing ‘privilege Olympics’ and wrote in Bad Feminist that privilege is relative and contextual…Is Obama less privileged than a white hillbilly growing up in a trailer park with a junkie single mother and a jailbird father?”

When a teenage LaTisha turned up pregnant, she says

Mummy went through the roof, literally exploded like a rocket through the kitchen ceiling first, then the bathroom ceiling above it, then through the roof and high into the sky until she calmed down enough to come back to earth with a thud

And Megan/Morgan describes her confusion

so Bibi had been born a man and was now a woman…and Megan was a woman who wondered if she should have been born a man, who was attracted to a woman who’d once been a man, who was now saying gender was full of misguided expectations anyway, even though she had herself transitioned from male to female

this was such head fuckery

Many of the characters turn up again near the end for the After-Party of Amma’s successful opening night, sometimes just as a vague description of a person present for the party. The last chapter reveals a completely unexpected connection between two characters that is as wonderful and touching as it could be.

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other, Grove Press, Black Cat, 464 pages (I read the kindle version). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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