I’m open to reading all genres but by far, my favorites are historical and cultural fiction. These past months I’ve been trying to read and learn about black culture, history and educate myself in any way I can. So far, I’ve always found a book for anything I need to know and that’s first source I turned to. While diversity and representation still struggles to thrive in films, it has been prevalent in literature for years!
Now, I’m not saying that this one book taught me all I need to know. But it certainly taught me something new in every chapter. Girl, Woman, Other spotlights the stories of twelve, black and British characters across the age, gender and class spectrum. It won the Booker Prize in 2019 and I’m not surprised, this book totally deserved it. It’s witty, engaging and impossible to put down.
The book is divided into five chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter revolves around the stories of three characters, who are all connected personally. They are all primarily black, female and some are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Apart from their experiences we see how their race, shapes their personality in a large way. The book begins with Amma, a lesbian playwright whose currently fifty years old and nervous for the premiere of her newest play. She looks back on when she first came to London in 1980, a fierce feminist ready to oppose anyone who puts her down. She meets Dominique, whose story is told later in the chapter and the both of them start a theater company with the aim of telling black and Asian women’s stories. If I told you the rest, I’d be spoiling it but Amma’s play is the basis of the book. The characters of the other chapters are all connected to her play in some way- from its watchers to its critics.
Another thing I’d like to highlight is the poetic telling of the book. The punctuation is unique and confusing at times but it’s what keeps the story going. I noticed that the characters in each chapter are so similar yet different. For instance, as the first chapter goes on we read about Amma’s daughter, Yazz who is nineteen years old and quite like the young version of Amma we read about earlier. The three women of the chapter are strikingly similar in terms of the what they stood for, what they’ve gone through. Each of them were disliked for being outspoken. Yet, Yazz never connected with her mother. Even though, both women stood for the same cause, they were never on the same page.
I observed this pattern across the book where characters in such relationships went through the same. I think it simply shows how we as human beings often struggle to communicate or find common ground with one another and looks for our differences rather than or similarities. It goes on to tell us of Carole, a successful banker who went to Oxford. She rejects her Nigerian roots and her background having had a traumatic experience, leaving her mother, Bummi disappointed. Then there’s Shirley who wishes to be more while her mother, Winsome wishes her daughter would stop whining. There’s also Penelope, the main focus of the epilogue. She’s adopted and brought up in a white family but not knowing her true heritage bothers her.
This book is inclusive on so many levels. One of the first things that compelled me to read the book was the acknowledgements. (I’ve attached a picture at the end) Something which I feel should be normalized and seen more often is stories like the last chapter- about a non-binary person called Megan/Morgan. A certain part of the chapter is written under the pronouns ‘they/them’ and it was great.
I also realized how we have managed to categorize an entire community by one word. Take ‘black’. It stands for a community of Nigerians, Somalis, African Americans, British Americans, Ethiopians and that doesn’t begin to cover all the people of different faiths and ethnicities.
Final thoughts~ I highly recommend this book if you wish to learn about black history and culture or if you’re interested in books which raise timeless questions about feminism and race.