"Girl, Woman, Other" by Bernardine Evaristo

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I began to wonder, while reading “Girl, Woman, Other,” what would the concluding device or strategy be, that would lead to this novel winning the 2019 Booker Prize. I began to anticipate something memorable because the book follows the lives of its various characters in a casual way, expounding the history of each in telling detail and sympathy, and occasionally, almost as an afterthought, ties them to each other. So I began to wonder. At the conclusion of the novel, I found out.

These characters are in the main women of color who have immigrated to England from Africa either directly or with ancestry in the Caribbean. Author Bernardine Evaristo makes her salient point in each of the histories: she focuses her very sharp eye on the variety and degree of hardship and discrimination each has been made to feel. These hardships range from very unsubtle discrimination in ‘50s and ‘60s Britain all the way to gang rape. The character who has endured this rape goes on to amass a  fortune, taking her place among the City’s elite investment bankers.

Evaristo has an unerring eye for human nature and foibles, like all writers of good fiction. She presents her characters here with the full range of emotion and behavior, warts and all. She and we repeatedly shake our heads over their attitudes and actions. The narrative expands as we go, accreting more and more characters over time; Evaristo defers follow-up or conclusion until well after we become impatient for it. Notwithstanding the haphazard “guest appearance” of a few dramatis personae in someone else’s story, narrative streams run parallel, without substantive cross-pollenating, until the premier of an edgy theater production at the book’s conclusion.

So it is a rich book; it is full of characters and full of humanity and full of the plaintive, injured recriminations of the oppressed.

These strains and these characters all gather at book’s conclusion for the performance of a play written and produced by Amma, a principal character. The premier of the play, called “The Last Amazon of Dahomey,” is the loose reason for these disparate characters gather and interact, some of them for the first time in perhaps decades. But even beyond this, there is an even further meeting which you will have to read the book to experience.

“Girl, Woman, Other” proceeds in an unexpected, deceiving pace, and introduces us to a variety of glib, sassy women. These women love and aspire and fight and suffer and wax wise through four hundred breezy pages - until an offhand suggestion leads one woman in a completely unexpected direction with stunning, memorable results. It is a book-long buildup and denouement well worth your while.

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