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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have selected this book in a bookstore but it’s this month’s pick for the Harare Book Club. I am glad that I read it and that’s one of the beauties of being part of a book club, it helps you to step outside of your comfort zone. We’ll be discussing it at the end of the month and I cannot wait to hear what everyone thinks about it. There’s so much going on in this book that left me shocked and most of the times I had to ask myself ‘what just happened?’ This book had me reflecting on what it means to be human, to be ‘different,’ and labeled.

Written in a free flowing style, twelve characters find themselves interconnected in this book that calls into question stereotypes and shows us that there is more to the people who have been compartmentalized. The reader follows the history and present of Amma, Yazz, Dominique, Carole, Bummi, LaTisha, Shirley, Winsome, Penelope, Megan/Morgan, Hattie and Grace. I had a front row seat to their lives, I shared in their hurt, joy, mistakes, deepest secrets, fears, their hopes, their internal/external battles with marginalization, I saw the things that make them up and those that break them. Evaristo shows me a world where family means different things. I saw how relationships such as friendship, love and family can be complicated as much as they can be a source of joy. Identity and belonging are important pillars in this text, questioning how one relates to the self and to others, through time and space. Womanhood is portrayed in a creative way in this book . I enjoyed finding its meaning to all the diverse characters, the ability of the author to inspire the reader to listen to the diverse voices and their silences too. Equally important is what it means to be black, now add that to being a woman or non binary. The mother-daughter relationship also comes into scope across different eras, for others its smooth sailing and for others it’s a rocky road. Sometimes it’s a mixture of the two depending on the seasons of life and that’s just how it is.

The book is divided into five chapters and an epilogue that left me satisfied by tying all ends. Each character is different and holds a wide door open for the reader to engage. In each character I found something relatable. I enjoyed the way friendships were highlighted in this text and this had me reflecting on the dynamics of my friendships. What made all these characters special for me was that they were real, real as it can get; some uncomfortable but always insightful.The characters will give you a lot to think about.

Of all the things that happened in this book I need a word with Winsome. That character broke my heart, it broke for her unsatisfied life and her actions towards her daughter. The justifications do not make sense, yet here we are everyday with life sometimes ambushing and pushing us to the deep end. Evaristo does not shy away from showing us those grey areas and ambiguities that we face in real life. We are so many things at once. I have never disliked a character as much as I did Nzinga yet a part of me was left yearning to know why she was the way she was, what her truths and deepest secrets were. Perhaps, I sought this information to validate my dislike for her. Chapter 1 was my favourite chapter and as the book progresses each character turns to be unforgettable. I lost interest between chapters 4 and 5 but I managed to pick the book again. It’s a long read.

I wasn’t worried about the form in which the book is presented because every sentence just flows with or without punctuation. So much has been said about what a ‘real’ novel should look like yet every now and again we find writers who show us that a novel can be anything you want it to be. The words can appear as you want them to. The narrative is what it is. In another world, if I didn’t already know that this is a novel I would have called it a short story collection..

Here are some quotes from the book:

1. ‘Amma experienced commitment to one person as imprisonment, she hadn’t left home for a life of freedom and adventure to end up chained to another person’s desires’ page 20

2. ‘as if she was the kind of woman who’d amputate her aspirations to become one of his decorative appendages’ page 118

3. ‘except she never has been, first she was a daughter, then a wife and mother, and now also a grandmother and great-grandmother.’ page 257

4. ‘no matter how long since they’ve last seen each other, the distance of three thousand miles across America, plus another four thousand across an ocean, dissolves as if it were never a barrier in the first place they pick up comfortably as the time before, this is the real meaning of a friendship that lasts a lifetime’ page 428

5. ‘this is not about feeling something or about speaking words this is about being together.’ page 452

This is an insightful read and a necessary reminder to hold close our tribes, to always look at people and things beyond what we can see or what we have always known them to be. It gave me new perspectives on significant issues that affect the way we live and engage. It gave me a different form from what I am used to. The themes are clearly articulated and the character development is solid. If you are looking for a long read and a layered text, this one is for you.


Author’s Profile

Bernadine Evaristo is an Anglo-Nigerian author who has written eight fiction books and a lot of other published work. ‘Girl, Woman, Other‘ (2019) is her eighth book. The book won the Booker Prize 2019 and the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year 2020 . Her writing and projects are based around her interest in the African diaspora. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.


Book Details

Title: Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019

Author: Bernardine Evaristo

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 464

Publisher: Penguin; 1st edition (2020)

Where to buy:

Other titles by author:


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