Review: Girl, Woman, Other
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo (2019)
There's something beautiful and unique about the way this book is both an overarching look at the history of Black women in Britain, and the similarities that tie them all together, while also being incredibly specific in it's depictions of each individual Black woman, and what makes them different.
Girl, Woman, Other is a tale of 12 Black, British women of different ages, cultural backgrounds, social statuses, gender identities, etc. - "from a lesbian playwright to a jaded schoolteacher to a non-binary social media influencer." Each chapter contains three sub-chapters, each of which tells the story of one of these women. For example, chapter one includes the stories of Amma, her daughter Yazz, and her friend Dominique. Each chapter's three women are related to one another in some way, and for a while that seems to be where the connections stop - within each chapter of three. But the further you get the more you see that all of these women are connected. The characters cross paths in different ways, and you begin to learn more about the earlier ones via other characters' stories. I loved how each of the women's lives unfolded in this way. Not only do you, as the reader, get more information as you go along to help round out each character, but also, with each new character you gain new perspectives of previous ones.
At the end I found myself wishing there was some kind of map to trace who knows who, and how... but if this existed in the book and a reader looked at it first, that would ruin a lot of the intricate work done to introduce the connections slowly.
Race and gender are important topics in Girl, Woman, Other, as the text explores what it means to be Black, what it means to be African &/or British, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be all of these things and Queer. Evaristo examines these questions (and many more) with the understanding that a.) the answers will always vary from person to person - there is no universal truth in what it means to be who you are, and that b.) humanity is universal.
I saw this great quote from the author in an interview:
Underpinning all my work is the assertion, “We are here and this is who we are.
And who we are is a myriad of things and not necessarily what you expect.”
It would be remiss of me not to also mention the writing style, which Evaristo calls "fusion fiction." The text is a mixture of prose and poetry, with almost no periods to end sentences, capital letters to begin them, or quotation marks to show dialogue. The sentences are free-flowing, and line-breaks abound. For the first chapter or so I found it a challenge to follow, but after that I got used to it. I think it's an interesting style choice, but feel a bit thick in admitting that I don't really understand the point. But that's probably just because I am a grammar stickler.
Another interesting fact that I only learned after I finished the book - each chapter and sub-chapter begins with a different Adinkra Symbol. Originating from the Asantes of Ghana, these visual symbols have historical and philosophical significance, and were originally printed on cloth worn by Asante royals, as well as on pottery, and as wall art. I compiled the symbols and then researched the meanings for each one, to see how they related to each person/chapter. Some meanings are straightforward, being quite easy to connect to the character (either sincerely or ironically), once you know them. Others are a bit more of a puzzle. I don't think my list will give anything away if you have yet to read the book, but I put it at the very end of this review, in case you want to skip it.
Finally, if you are interested in hearing a discussion about the book (before or after reading it - doesn't matter), I'd suggest you check out Writers & Books' new series "Ampersand Talks Books," with staff member Clara O'Connor! The first episode covers Girl, Woman, Other, in a discussion with W&B teacher Almeta Whitis.
2019 Booker Prize
Twenty-five Book of the Year and Decade honours
Barack Obama's Top 19 Books for 2019, and Roxane Gay's Favorite Book of 2019
Best Fiction Book at the 2020 British Book Awards
Shortlisted for The Women's Prize
UP NEXT: The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom
Title page - Funtunfunefu Denkyemfunefu: "Siamese crocodiles," a symbol of democracy & unity
Amma - Okodee Mmowere: "The Talons of the Eagle," a symbol of strength, bravery, & power
Yazz - Duafe: "Wooden Comb," a symbol of beauty & cleanliness
Dominique - Nkonsonkonson: "Chain Link," asymbol of unity and human relations
Carole - Akoben (variation): "War Horn," a symbol of vigilance & wariness
Bummi - Denkyem: "Crocodile," a symbol of adaptability
LaTisha - unsure if this one is:
Bi Nka Bi: "No One Should Bite the Other," a symbol of peace & harmony
or Kwatakye Atiko: "Hair Style of an Asante War Captain," a symbol of bravery & valor
Shirley - Wawa Aba: "Seed of the Wawa Tree," a symbol of hardiness & perseverance
Winsome - Kete Pa: "Good Bed," a symbol of a good marriage
Penelope - Akoben (variation): "War Horn," a symbol of vigilance & wariness
Megan/Morgan - Sesa Woruban: "Change/Transform Your Character," a symbol of life transformation
Hattie - Dwennimmen: "Ram's Horns," a symbol of humility together with strength
Grace - Osran Ne Nsoromma: "The Moon and the Star," a symbol of love, faithfulness, & harmony
Epilogue - Kojo Baiden: "Rays," a symbol of the cosmos & omnipresence
I used the following website to find the symbol meanings: http://www.adinkra.org.