With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle.
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.
My Rating: ★★★★
That first line ” My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist” was all it took for me to pick up this book. I have always been fascinated by what motivates men to have more than one wife or family; leading separate lives.
Having not read An American Marriage by the same author but knowing the hype surrounding it, I thought it was a fair bet that Silver Sparrow would be a great read. And I was not disappointed.
Tayari Jones delivers a slow and deliberate narrative; rich in detail; and steeped in her own history. An evocative and thought provoking portrait of 1980s Atlanta; with beautifully written characters and raw emotions; Silver Sparrow delves deep into family connection, love, lies and deceit.
Dana and Chaurisse; the two daughters of bigamist James Witherspoon narrate this story; sharing their two sides of a connected history- their own life stories and those of their respective mothers, Gwen and Laverne. They tell of how their mothers each met and married their common father. How it came to be that James had two families – his secret family who he visits for dinner on Wednesday evenings and his legal family who know nothing about Dana and Gwen.
Dana relegated to being the ‘secret’ daughter is always in competition for her father’s affection and attention; struggling with being second best. Fed up of being forced to sacrifice her own needs and wants in order to ensure the perfection and innocence of Chaurisse’s life; Dana seeks out her ‘half sister’ befriending her and bringing down the whole house of cards James has built.
Things I liked:
- Dana’s curiosity and self-rightousness
- Gwen’s strength – even though I didn’t agree with all of her choices, I admired her resolve to give Dana the best possible life she could given her limitations
- ‘Uncle’ Raleigh – living in James’ shadow; protecting both families out of a sense of familial obligation
- Tayari’s writing style and the authenticity of her character’s voices
Things I didn’t like as much:
- How Gwen was so accepting of her lot (except when drinking) – essentially a single mum, ok with Wednesday night dinners and leftover love
- How blinkered Laverne was and how naive Chaurisse was – although I completely understood the author’s reasoning, I found myself wanting to scream at these two….and I guess that was the point.
- The way the ending was wrapped up, I was hoping for something different where Laverne was concerned
- THAT MAN! Who does he think he is?
Silver Sparrow is a powerful, heartbreaking and emotional novel. If you haven’t already read this one, I highly recommend picking it up.