With wives, it only matters who gets there first. With daughters it’s a bit more complicated. – from Silver Sparrow, page 5 –
Dana Yarboro is a secret child, the daughter of a bigamist. Her father’s first family is the recognized one. His first daughter is the child who gets everything she wants while Dana lives in the shadows. Chaurisse Witherspoon knows nothing of Dana, while Dana knows everything about Chaurisse. These two sisters narrate Tayari Jones’ third novel set in the 1980s in Georgia.
Dana’s voice is the first to speak:
My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. He was already married ten years when he first clamped his eyes on my mother. – from Silver Sparrow, page 3 –
From the opening pages, the reader learns that James lives two distinct lives and it is his wish that his two daughters shall never meet. Dana is an outspoken, fearless child who is also vulnerable in her desire for her father’s love. The conflict between Dana’s wish for her father’s approval and her curiosity about the sister she has never met, drives the narrative.
The second half the book is narrated by Chaurisse who knows nothing of Dana’s roots. She is living her life with privileges which Dana can only dream about, unaware that her father is hiding a sister from her.
It is this imbalance between the characters and the eventual uncovering of truth which provides the tension in this novel about secret lives, sibling rivalry, and forbidden love. Jones beautifully develops her teenage protagonists while fleshing out the mothers of these girls into strong, female characters who the reader grows to respect. Honest, sharply written and with a sardonic humor, Jones reels the reader into the story and does not let go.
I thoroughly enjoyed Silver Sparrow that is both a coming of age story and a glimpse into contemporary marriage. Readers who enjoy meticulously crafted, character driven novels, will not want to miss this book. I know I will be looking forward to reading more of this talented author’s work.
I was thrilled to be able to meet Tayari Jones at Booktopia in Santa Cruz (October 19-21, 2012). Her work is reflective of the person she is – funny, smart, and introspective.
Check out this fabulous webcast with Tayari Jones and Judy Blume on the Algonquin Books site.