For a very long time I have been seeing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo all over #bookstagram. It even won the Booker Prize for 2019 alongside Margaret Atwood. Naturally I was inclined to get the book because the title in itself was enough to intrigue me.
Before I get on the story and actual review, I want to pay attention to the title: “Girl, Woman, Other”.
There is a harsh reality to this title, that many people (men for the most part) won’t be able to pick on. The “otherising” of women in every sphere of life. Assuming the male normative in many walks of life, and seeing the differences in sexes or gender, as a weakness.I have recently become aware of the huge difference between sex and gender.
For a long time, I assumed they were the same, and used both words interchangeably. However, whereas one describes the biology of humans, the other is a construct formed and fueled by patriarchy to subjugate and belittle the anatomy and power my sex holds.
“Let us wonder at how X was just a rare letter until algebra came along and made it something special that can be unravelled to reveal inner value.”
As if, womanly experiences are less than males.
As if, that “time of the month” or “pmsing” defines the outrage or anger over a wrong/injustice done to a woman.
As if decisions that will impact the health, wealth, and safety of my sex can be made by the other sex because we are too… fragile, weak or “other” to discuss the impact and consequences of said decisions.
“People have to share everything they do these days, from meals, to nights out, to selfies of themselves half naked in a mirror
The borders between public and private are dissolving”
Girl, Woman, Other may be a story of 12 women of color in the UK from each generation that have witnessed the socio-political changing in UK, but it also is a story of their struggle to be at one with their womanhood.
Girl, Woman, Other made me think a lot about the binaries that exist in our world, the struggles previous generations faced in their times, and how their outdated ideals can be considered sacrilegious in world striving to “cancel” anyone who doesn’t share the same opinions.
Girl, Woman, Other will make you see female friendship, love, marriage, agency, and politics in a different light. And for that reason alone you may find it worth the read.
“…what with the planet about to go to shit with the United Kingdom soon to be disunited from Europe which itself is hurtling down the reactionary road and making fascism fashionable again and it’s so crazy that the disgusting perma-tanned billionaire has set a new intellectual and moral low by being president of America and basically it all means that the older generation has RUINED EVERYTHING and her generation is doooooomed”
So what is the story about?
Written and structured in a free flowing verse/poetry, it was a bit disconcerting to follow the story in the beginning but you soon follow the stories of the 12 women mentioned in Girl, Woman, Other, all Black/mixed/mulatto and trying to figure out their identities.
The book starts with Amma, a playwright in London, who is showcasing a new production called The Last Amazon of Dahomey. All 12 women have their stories intertwined in one form or another with Amma, and her production/after party is the place after which we understand the significance of their lives.
“Courtney replied that Roxane Gay warned against the idea of playing ‘privilege Olympics’ and wrote in Bad Feminist that privilege is relative and contextual, and I agree, Yazz, I mean, where does it all end?
Is Obama less privileged than a white hillbilly growing up in a trailer park with a junkie single mother and a jailbird father?
Is a severely disabled person more privileged than a Syrian asylum-seeker who’s been tortured?”
Prior to the after party, we’re introduced to all 12 women: Amma, Yazz, Dominique, Carole, Bummi, LaTisha, Shirley, Winsome, Penelope, Megan/Morgan, Hattie, and Grace all ranging from 20-90 years old. We’re given glimpses into how they feel about love, freedom, their purpose, fighting against patriarchy, becoming a pawn in the White man’s supremacy, and navigating UK from the late 19th century to the 21st century.
It is hard to summarize Girl, Woman, Other in a way to make you understand the range of themes this book covers from politics, to sexuality, sex, gender, race, privilege, dysfunctional family, discrimination, adoption and more.
“she didn’t tell them she’d taken her father for granted and carried her blinkered, self-righteous perspective of him from childhood through to his death, when in fact he’d done nothing wrong except fail to live up to her feminist expectations of him”
It feels like Evaristo knew that the only way to make the POC woman seen and heard in literature is to go back a century, start from the very beginning and reiterate all stories that need to be shared. Girl, Woman, Other takes you on a train ride, where each stop gives you just enough to understand the struggles women of color faced in each era, and how far they’ve come, yet how it isn’t enough.
“I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway”
The writing spins your mind but in a good way, and the significance of adding a period right at the end is both symbolic to how each story of all 12 women wasn’t finished till the end of the prologue. And how, it still won’t end until we have writers like Bernadine Evaristo present, to make sure that in the midst of so much noise and glitter, we also hear the stories that matter, make you feel uncomfortable and heard.
“What matters most to me, is that I know how I feel, and the rest of the world might catch up one day, even if it’ll be a quiet revolution over longer than my lifetime, if it happens at all”
HOWEVER, despite the tremendous effort, I do feel like Evaristo committed the same troupe of stereotyping the Hijab in a way that only panders to the West. It felt offensive to me, because I know how much it means to my community and girls, and despite me being open to reading and accepting all sorts of stories, I couldn’t stomach the descriptive “fetishising” of the hijab because of the beauty and freedom it holds in my opinion.
It’s not just some cloth many women wear, despite her trying to make exactly that point with Yazz’s friend. It holds a value sacred and noble to many women all over the world.
Onto the basics:
Favorite quote: “Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when the entire race is in it together
, although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older, because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurely”
Should you read it: absolutely, the stories are so radical!
Reader level: this is hard, won’t lie.
Would I read it again: I honestly, don’t know. Maybe after I read her other books.
Till next time,