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Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow (edition 2012)

by Tayari Jones

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4313524,472 (3.81)16
Title:Silver Sparrow
Authors:Tayari Jones
Info:Algonquin Books (2012), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Fiction African American

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Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
An unusual review from me, from a talk I gave on the book:

What is Silver Sparrow a story about?
It is not just a story of two sisters, Dana Lynn Yarbor and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon, being daughters of a bigamist.
It is a story about belonging, finding a place in life.
A sense of family.
A sense of identity.
And secret lives that people live.
For someone like the illegitimate daughter of James, Dana, her upbringing is extremely confusing when she is young. She doesn’t understand the reasons why her father does not stay the night, or why they cannot be seen with her mother publicly being affectionate.
From her point of view in the first half of the book, we see the story of a girl becoming a determined smart woman, but who also has something missing. We see in a sense and outside girl from the outside. We see what she wants us to see in her narrative.
But throughout it we sense her loneliness, and it is only in the second half of the story, through her Chaurisse’s eyes, that we begin to see the desperation of Dana to find her way to connect to her sister. At times it feels desperate and sad, yet we see a truer side to Dana than we did from her point of view in the narration.
In a lot of ways, Dana and her mother Gwen have a deeper understanding of themselves from the beginning, of who they are in the social situation, but miss what the traditional meaning of a true family.
Chaurisse on the other hand, has everything a typical middle class African American family in the 1980s in Atlanta could ever want in a family. She is however, lonely. She repeatedly says she has no friends and doesn’t really do very well in her studies, in a lot of ways she is a quintessential middle class average teenager.
Chaurisse and her mother Laverne have a very comfortable and typical family and social understanding of who they are, only to be uprooted by the truth later in the novel. Laverne seems to know deep down, about the Gwen and James relationship. It is in the end, when all hell breaks loose, that Laverne and Chaurisse’s now have to see their world as a lie.
Dana: “You only lie to people you love” has some very strong meaning in this story. For better or worse, and it is what it is, and judgements can be made on it, and these aren’t excuses, but James is doing his best to maintain two families, with the help of his brother. Does this make him stronger or complicated? Despite all of his efforts to give both families everything they need, James does not necessarily get affection from either daughter. James was lying to his public family, does this mean he really loves them more?
Where do these two sisters belong with each other? They drift apart as some family members do, but how are they affected by being daughters of a bigamist? How has their childhood affected then and who have they become as adults.
You can relate to this story if you are a stepchild.
You can relate to this story if you are adopted.
Each of our lives are different and individual. How do we define ourselves based on our families?
Maybe there is a part in people that desires the affections of a maternal / paternal past, but much like the characters of Dana and Chaurisse in the book, we often move on from that. Some people don’t, some people are trapped by it.
Now there is a lot of tragedy when it comes to bigamy that is for certain. But there has been a new relationship movement in the world called Polyamory. Polyamorists are people that believe in having multiple relationships as being part of a family. They all often live in the same house and share parenting duties of children and seem very happy and content with the lifestyle.
The point of bringing that up, is that these folks had been struggling with their identity in relationships and family and have found it, just have many of us have. In a lot of ways we do not live in the traditional world of our grandparents, for better or for worse.
Silver Sparrow definitely addresses this. The idea of identity, who we are and what defines us as people. For Chaurisse, who she thought she was, the only daughter James, is turned upside down. And when James comes back home to be husband and father, she rejects the father. I do wonder how that would have played out if she were not 18 when the secrets got out. If she were 9, or 11, or 15….
For Dana, who always knew her position, she was so curious to taste that side of family life, to wonder how it felt, that she went to extremes to know her sister that she friended her, until HER secret was let out.
The book addresses a very real issue, not in the literal sense of secret families, but in the sense of how we find our place in families.

“It is a story of two sisters, one public one private
And each lose as much as they gain in the process.” – Michele Norris ( )
  noblechicken | Jun 12, 2015 |
I first heard of Tayari Jones years ago when I read The Secret Miracle. The Secret Miracle was one of those “round-table” author books where writers are asked a question and each author shares their perspective. Tayari Jones was one of the participants. I decided to keep score and figured I would read the works of the top-scoring writers. Tayari Jones was a top scorer.

Years have passed and I've read only one of those five authors I told myself I'd read (Aleksandar Hemon, the only author from that list I've read, I'd been familiar with prior to The Secret Miracle). It's time to rectify that.

Silver Sparrow stands behind a very intriguing premise. James Witherspoon, a bigamist, has two families. One family knows about the other. The other family does not. It's a wonderful setup and the story that unfolds is exciting and dramatic. I loved the narrative choice of using Witherspoon's daughters as well as the structure of giving each of the daughters half the novel to tell their story. The one negative about this was that Jones delved too far into things these girls wouldn't know about family history and such. I get that they've probably been told things by their mothers and would know some, but the detail into which they go, especially Chaurisse and the stories she tells about her mother's younger years, are unbelievable; in a story such as this, believably is extremely important. Going with a limited-third-person perspective might have aided in making this knowledge more believable, but would've distanced the reader from the characters too much. Going with any other perspective than that of the girls would've ruined the story. I think perhaps the best choice would've been to tell less of the back story, leave it to what the girls might have been told.

Jones' novel is full of characters that are realistic and interesting. The particulars and repercussions of bigamy are details most of us probably give little thought to. Silver Sparrow explores these uncharted lands with great insight and heart. It's a story of not only the Other Woman, but the Other Daughter as well. ( )
  chrisblocker | Feb 20, 2015 |
Well written book that raises excellent questions about being a daughter, a sister, a father. Great discussion book. ( )
  vnesting | Oct 26, 2014 |
This story shares the frustrations sister born to a bigamist father. One is burdened with keeping her father's secret, while the other has no idea her father's other family even exists. Similar in age, they are both navigating their teenage years and learning what family truly is. The story is totally relatable to all "silver sparrows" in this world. ( )
  NikoleA | Oct 10, 2014 |
Enjoyed this story of bigamist father to 2 different black families, each having a daughter born just months' apart. First half is from point of view of daughter that was "illegitimate". Second half was POV of other daughter. Each told the story of their family life, with father in the forefront. At end of second half, the 2 families collide and changes things forever. ( )
  bogopea | Jul 30, 2014 |
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A Daughter is a Colony

a territory, a progeny,
a spitting image
like Athena sprung

from her father's head;
chip off the old block,
issue and spawn;

a namesake, a wishbone---
loyalist and traitor----
a native, an other,

a subject, a study,
a history, a half blood,
a continent dark and strange.

-----Natasha Trethewey
For my parents, Barbara and Mack Jones, who, to the best of my knowledge, are married only to each other
First words
My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.
Anyone who has ever seen James when the stammer rode him could tell how much it hurt him. His face and neck seemed to swell as though the words were trapped in there, painful and deadly like sickle cells. And finally with a jerk, spasm, or kick, the sentence would break free, unfettered and whole.
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A story about a man's deception, a family's complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon's two families, the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered. As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters, the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle, she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another's lives. At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers--think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye--Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.… (more)

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