The basics: This novel tells the story of James Witherspoon's family in 1980's Atlanta. Witherspoon is a bigamist with two wives who each have one daughter.
My thoughts: I adored this novel from the beginning. It begins with Dana narrating. Dana's mother married James when she became pregnant, even though she knew he was already married. Dana has always known of her father's first wife and first daughter, Chaurisse. As a teenager, she has to wait on Chaurisse, who does not know Dana exists, for everything, from her summer job to her choice of school. Her life has an element of pain and heartbreak to it, but I was moved by her perspectives on life:
"I think about the world and the way that things take place and in what order. I am not one of those people who believe that everything happens for a reason. Or, if I am, I don’t believe that everything happens for a good reason."When thinking about the book, it might be easy to dismiss James as a bad man and Dana's mother as a fool for sleeping with a married man. Jones never takes the easy way, however, and this deep character study has so many layers of tragedy mixed with understanding:
"Love can be incremental. Predicaments, too. Coffee can start a life just as it can start a day. This was the meeting of two people who were destined to love from before they were born, from before they made choices that would complicate their lives. This love just rolled toward my mother as though she were standing at the bottom of a steep hill. Mother had no hand in this, only heart."One of the most intriguing things in this novel is the exploration of James. He's not the type of man I think of as a bigamist. He has a stutter. He wears glasses. He's not the charismatic charmer or egotistical man who thinks he has a right to more than one woman. Within the confines of his world, he thinks of himself as deeply honorable. I don't condone his behavior or its impact on these four women, but Jones does make a case for understanding each side of the story, and that is what makes this novel great.
When the novel switches narration to Chaurisse, I was sad to leave Dana, but I ended up enjoying her perspective just as much. I didn't expect to like or understand Chaurisse, but I did, which a testament to the writing and character development of Tayari Jones.
I confess to having a special affinity for coming of age novels set in Atlanta, as I lived in the city from the ages of 11 to 20 (and then a few more years in my 20's). There were quite a few instances of special connection I felt when Jones described particular places in the city. These references may sneak past you if you don't know the city, but I treasured these small moments and being able to picture Dana and Chaurisse in specific, real places.
Favorite passage: "There’s only so much that you can chalk up to coincidence. I believe in the eventuality of things. What’s done in the dark shall come to the light. What goes up comes down. What goes around comes around. There are a million of these sayings, all, in their own way, true. And isn’t that what’s supposed to set you free?"
The verdict: I loved everything about Silver Sparrow: the characters, the writing, the pacing, the themes and the setting. This exploration of a family continues to move me. While it's very much a story of these six people, its also deeply symbolic of its place, community and time.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 353 pages
Publication date: May 24, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle (it's only $8.83!)
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Silver Sparrow from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)
Want more Tayari? Follow her on Twitter, visit her website, and read her blog. I particularly recommend her blog post on the importance of contraception and the difference it plays in the lives of Dana and Chaurisse.
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