Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Date Read: July 2nd 2022

Published: 2011

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Pages: 368

The Blurb

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the 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. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed “one of the most important writers of her generation” (the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Wow. There is a special place in hell for this James Witherspoon character, with Raleigh (James’ right-hand man) following right after him. Just, wow.

I enjoyed Dana’s chapters way more than Chaurisse’s chapters. Since the book starts off with Dana’s chapters, I really wanted to give this book 5 stars. But as we transitioned into Chaurisse’s story, I started to not really care about her self-deprecating, under-achieving demeanor. Also, some bits of the story felt overly dramatic and almost unrealistic when we were approaching the climax of the nonsense James orchestrated.

I did love how with each of the girls’ chapters, we are taken through their parents’ past. The way James and Laverne (Chaurisse’s parents) met and settled down was so different from how James and Gwen (Dana’s parents) met and ‘settled down’. Raleigh’s past had my heart sooooo heavy, whew! Even though we are introduced to Miss Bunny briefly, I really loved her! What a woman. A true, selfless MVP.

If I had read this book when I was in my teens or 20’s, I would have judged Gwen and Dana so harshly. But since I read this while in my 30’s, I somewhat appreciate Gwen’s decisions and understand her. There is a lot of pain in this book. There are no winners or losers in this story… oh wait – James is definitely a loser in this story. There is absolutely no way that anyone can make me sympathize with such a wicked, heartless, confused, selfish man, ei! It’s so interesting how James actually thinks he’s a noble man, full of integrity because he honored both women by marrying them ; but he didn’t treat both families equally at all. How he treated Dana, especially at the end when she reveals to readers her last encounter with him was terrible.

Silver Sparrow is a really complicated 1980’s story about family, secrets and sisterhood. Social class and privilege more layers of complexity to the story. The way Tayari Jones writes about her hometown – Atlanta, and the South, shows her immense love for the region. I’m trying to understand why hair played such a large role in this book; there are many scenes in Laverne’s hair salon and Chaurisse often compared her meagre hair to Dana’s luscious mane. There seemed to be a stark juxtaposition between the girls’ level of privilege with the abundance of their hair. I found that weirdly interesting.

Tayari Jones is an author I’m really beginning to love. I gave An American Marriage 5 stars back in 2020, and I do see her growth as a writer in that book.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Date Read: April 9th 2020

Published: January 2018

Publisher: Algonquin Books


The Blurb

Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future


Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I finished reading An American Marriage yesterday. I usually take my time with my current reads, but I devoured this book in two days because I just wanted to get the pain over and done with. A book hits differently when you read it once the hype has subsided. My heart!

I initially wanted to give up on this book after the first 40 pages, but my Mom encouraged me to finish it (the book was a gift to her last year, and she loved it even though it was a painful read). I wanted to stop reading because the story was laden with a type of grief I didn’t want to deal with, especially not during this anxious time of Coronavirus. The events that led to Roy’s arrest were traumatic, painful and heartbreaking to read – especially with him being innocent. While the couple’s arguments prior the arrest were probably normal, I wasn’t encouraged by their relationship, as a whole. Reading the letters Celestial and Roy wrote each other while Roy was in prison was heavy. Their relationship before and after prison was just heavy! *sigh*… Andre, really sir?

There are no good or bad characters in this story – I’m on everyone’s side. I love that Jones showed how all the characters in this book came from imperfect (loving) families and how messy their relationships were. But I sympathize with Roy the most. Jones definitely highlights Black masculinity in all its forms, through poor Roy’s character, as well as the other men in this story – Andre, Big Roy, Carlos, Franklin, Uncle Banks. An American Marriage definitely reminds readers of the terrible effects of mass incarceration – not only for the people imprisoned, but also the friends and families involved. The last 50 pages of this book were probably the best! My heart raced as I was eager to know how the story would end. I quite liked how it ended, really. One thing that stuck out for me was how history repeated itself – with regards to how Celestial’s parents got married and Roy’s biological father in prison…

Jones made this book as Southern as possible and I loved that! Readers are acquainted with Georgia (Atlanta) and Louisiana (Eloe) via the landscape, the soul food, the accents and the lifestyles. It’s hard not to crave shrimp croquettes and blackberry jam cake while reading!

An American Marriage reminded me of Baldwin’s ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ and Ava DuVernay’s documentary ’13th’ – both tragic explorations of the serious systemic issues America is slow to rectify. Jones’ beautiful writing kept this story captivating, emotional and very human. I know this novel is a love story at it’s core, but ultimately, I found the story to be an intimately devastating tale that exposes the effects of America’s humongous issue of mass incarceration. Read this, if you have the heart.

Last thing! Maybe its because I’m almost a Dentist, but I can’t seem to get over how pained I am about Roy’s tooth… what’s the significance of the whole tooth thing? Someone please enlighten me!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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