Our March pick for Ballerina Book Club, hosted by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Isabella Boylston, is Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half.” The novel tells the story of identical twins Desiree and Stella Vignes, who run away from their hometown at the age of 16 to lead two separate lives, split along color lines.
The narrative begins in the small southern town of Mallard, La., which was established in 1848 by a light-skinned man named Alphonse Decuir who envisioned a community where the people got lighter with each passing generation. The son of a Black mother and a white father (who formerly enslaved Decuir), the town founder’s goal was to create a “third place” for “men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes.”
Years after the twin’s disappearance from their hometown, Desiree returns with her own child, born from a marriage with “the darkest man she could find.” Meanwhile, Stella lives with her husband in California, where she secretly passes as white.
Mallard, Bennett notes in an interview with Nashville Public Television, is based on a place her mother heard about while she was a child in Louisiana.
“When my mom told me the story, I became really interested in it because — not only is it very striking and disturbing — but just thinking about the idea of not only privileging light-skin, but instituting it almost, or sort of genetically engineering it within your population, that was so spooky to kind of think about,” she explains in the video. “And I think that that was one entry point into the story that really fascinated me.”
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Moving between generations, the novel considers the implications of the past as it relates to community, family, identity and belonging. The book is the second from Bennett, who published “The Mothers” in 2016.
You can find our reading schedule below. Be sure to check back for discussion questions and special surprises. We will also continue with the discussion of our Ballerina Book Club Classic pick “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin.
A parting note: If you haven’t already, sign up for our weekly newsletter to get interviews, book picks and more delivered to your inbox. You can also find us on Goodreads, where we’ll be discussing the book and more.
~ Reading Schedule ~
March 4: Part I
March 11: Parts II and III
March 18: Parts IV and V
March 25: Part VI
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