Tuesday, March 20, 2012

book review: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

The backstory: Silver Sparrow, the third novel by Tayari Jones, is the winner of this year's Indie Lit Awards for Fiction. It is such a joy to finally tell you all how much I loved this novel. As a judge for the Indie Lit Awards, I've been under a gag order until the winner was announced, and it was killing me to not share this novel with you, even before we all voted it the winner. Also, for the first time in my organized reading life, the novel I wanted to win from the shortlist won. It's a nice feeling.

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.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

16 comments:

  1. Yay! I loved this one too!! You read Leaving Atlanta by her, right? I did not even realize until recently that the Indie Lit Awards was a fairly new thing. Anyway, AWESOME that she won!!

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    1. Sadly, no, but I'll be reading Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling soon. I'm a total convert (as I knew I would be as soon as I found time to pick it up!)

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  2. You are very persuasive! I've just looked this book up and I'm not sure it is released in the UK (that might explain Orange absence?). It is possible to buy the hardback from Amazon, but I think they are selling the US version. I will read this at some point, but I'll be patient and wait for the paperback to be released and if there is no sign of a UK release I'll import a copy.

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    1. Very interesting, Jackie! I saw it for sale on Amazon UK and didn't look very hard to see they were selling the US version. Perhaps it still has an Orange chance in a later year then!

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  3. This sounds very good, but like Jackie I'm not sure about UK availability. I hope it is released as I'd love to read it.

    And I'm happy to meet someone else working through the orange long-list - it'll be interesting to share thoughts on all of the books :)

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    1. Yes! I was so glad to discover your blog today. I'll look forward to sharing thoughts!

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  4. I need to read this! I loved listening to her speak in Tucson.

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    1. Ooh--I would love to hear her speak. I've been meaning to read her for years and now cannot wait to read her first two novels!

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  5. I loved this book and I'm so glad you did too. I really didn't like James at all though I loved his friend. Silver Sparrow is one of those books that you want to talk to everyone about after you've read it.

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    1. I wouldn't say I liked James, but I did understand him, which is a testament to Jones. I'm so glad this book won the Indie Lit Award. I hope it finds a wider audience!

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  6. Vasilly sent me a box of books, and I was so happy to see that this one was in there! Now I know that I need to read it soon, and your insight on it, and the fact that you loved it so much really has me excited! I am glad that it took the award, and hope that I love it as much as you did. Fantastic review today!

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    1. I'm so glad Vasilly sent you this one! I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on it and hope you love it as much as she and I both did!

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  7. I cannot wait to read this one! It sounds wonderful and I have to admit, before it was nominated I hadn't heard of it!

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    1. Ti--I think Tayari is well known in certain literary circles, particularly Atlanta, so I was thrilled to see it nominated and finally give me the nudge to read it. Enjoy!

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  8. I enjoyed this one a lot too. So much tension as you await the meeting of two daughters... well-written... memorable characters.

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    1. I'm glad you loved it too, Gayle! I can't wait to read her earlier two novels.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!