In Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo traces the impacts of identity, racism, xenophobia, feminism, slavery, classism, and so much more through many generations of British women of color who are not tied to each other only by blood but rather through encounters and relationships, some briefer than others. Each of these women has a different history and understanding of their relationship to the world that greatly affects how they view themselves and others around them. Each of their stories comes beautifully up against conflict where those internal ideas of identity battle out the external one’s societies and others hold up against them. Often, the stories reveal another side of an earlier woman’s story that we might not have considered and definitely would not have understood in the same way. It’s an incredible reminder of the kind of struggle all humans face in understanding each other, complicated by marginalization and through the nuance of intersectional identities.
Evaristo writes these stories like conversations. It’s extremely literary in its presentation and accessible in its cadence. I’ve never quite experienced this kind of conversation while reading and it’s really mind blowing. I honestly felt like I was talking to full, whole people and listening to them complain about their friends or family or telling me how their day went. Or it’s like reading a diary? It just felt so so real and personal for each and every character.
When I read Girl, Woman, Other, it wasn’t long after I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. In some ways, I’m so glad I read the two so close together because there are so many complicated and beautiful ideas and histories relayed through both texts and they both do that hard work very well. It also means that it was hard for me to separate my experience of one from the other. Since I loved both, I’m not sure it makes as big a difference in terms of appreciate and caring about the works but it has made writing this review harder. Like Evaristo, Gyasi employs many generations of voices and their stories but hers follows a linear path of history from past to present whereas Evaristo presents, mostly, a specific moment in time that has resulted from many different histories impacting each story and how that all comes together.
In any case, the book is brilliant. I read it in less than a day more than a month ago and it’s been turning over and over in my head ever since. I’d like to re-read it this year and I’m not surprised it won such an extraordinary prize. I plane to read The Testaments just to find out if they should have shared the prize.