Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Setting: Atlanta, USA
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon's two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters ”the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle ”she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another's lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers ”think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye”Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.
My father, James Witherspoon, is a Bigamist. Tayari, right off the bat and without wasting precious pages on vivid descriptions trying to set the scene, opens up this fantastic book with this jarring statement that immediately reels you in.
Dana is a Silver Sparrow. The secret child of the ‘other woman’ and hers is a life of crumbs. She always feeds off the left overs after the legitimate child, her half-sister, Chaurisse, has had her fill. Even as a child of 5, she was very aware that her existence was to remain a secret especially if she ever hoped to gain the affection and attention of her bigamist father.
And so with her mother, Gwen, they remain on the sidelines, 'survelling' and stalking the legitimate family (who have no idea they exist), wishing and comparing, and making do with the Wednesday dinners with the bigamist.
But how long can one remain a secret? How long before playing second fiddle stops being enough and it all comes to a head?
Tayari presents a complex moral dilemma, and by switching in between the POVs of the two sisters, she forces you to immerse yourself in the characters and empathize and really care for them - flaws and all. There are no clear wrongs or rights but there is a lot to be reckoned with.
Having read and loved An American Marriage, i can see similarities in how thoughtfully Tayari develops her characters - multifaceted, complex and flawed. It’s so easy to stand on the outside and judge their actions and decisions but Tayari has the ability to put you smack in the middle of their issues, demanding compassion from you.
She always leaves you with the feeling that life is never straight forward and for most people, there are no happy endings. At times life gives you lemons and you are not always able to turn them into lemonade. All you can do is adapt your taste buds to the bitter taste and hope to make it your new normal.