Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Published by Algonquin Books
Dana Lynn Yarboro has always known that her father is a bigamist, and that her mother is “the other woman”. Dana and her mom live a secret life, seeing the patriarch of their family only once or twice a week. Her father’s legal wife and her daughter, Chaurisse, who’s the same age as Dana, have no idea that Dana and her mother exist. Dana grows up feeling like Chaurisse gets everything she’s denied – love, affection, nice things, and most of all, an honest and open life. So it’s with the hope of getting to know her secret sister that Dana sets into motion a series of events that will change things for everyone.
Silver Sparrow is a book about something that no one likes to talk about but that I am sure is a lot more common than people realize. Dana’s father had an affair with her mother when he was married to another woman, and Dana was born as a result of that affair. But not only did he have this affair – he constructed a whole second, secret life that he successfully maintained for years. The levels of deceit, deception, and betrayal that went into this man’s life were shocking but I’m afraid not completely uncommon in reality. The fact that this is reality for some people was never something far from my mind as I was reading the book.
This book is told first from Dana’s perspective, then Chaurisse’s, and I have to admit that I felt much more deeply for Dana than I did Chaurisse. I’m sure this is partially by design – Dana’s section is first, so the reader completely gets to know and love Dana before even encountering Chaurisse – but also, partly it’s because of the fact that Dana is clearly the less privileged person in this situation. I was actually surprised by how much I liked Chaurisse but then I had to remind myself that she was just as innocent in this as Dana – she certainly didn’t choose for her father to have an affair! Both girls are at the mercy of their father’s choices and neither girl has an ideal life. The fact that Chaurisse is ignorant of this fact seems glamorous to Dana, but at the same time, Dana has the power of knowledge that Chaurisse doesn’t. Either way you look at it, neither girl has a perfect life.
As the novel gets closer to the end, it becomes clear that Dana will not rest until she gets to know Chaurisse, even if that means lying to her parents to get close to her. While she doesn’t reveal her identity, there is a level of anxiety throughout the last 100 pages of the book that I couldn’t help but feel. It is obvious while reading the book that there’s no possible way the two girls meeting and becoming friends can end on a happy note. I admire Jones for the way she handled this delicate subject and what she chose to do with the characters and their stories. She gave the novel a realistic ending and while it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, I’m not sure how else things could have turned out.
Anyway, I really liked Silver Sparrow and I think Jones is brave for tackling this issue, and extremely talented for the way she did it. Highly recommended!