Book review: Silver Sparrow

March 21, 2012

A recent novel by one of Pacific's MFA in Writing faculty members gives a glimpse of another world.

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I recently took my first foray into books by the faculty and students in Pacific’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing program, with Tayari Jones’ novel, Silver Sparrow. And let me say: What a great place to start.

A simple search through a list of faculty-authors produced a list of at least 75 “to-reads” in my shelf. (I love electronic lists!) I picked Jones’ novel first, both due to its recent critical claim—there’s a ton, including Jones’ 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Creative Writing—and the compelling synopsis of the story.

The novel gives the first-hand accounts of two young girls growing up in parallel families in 1980s Atlanta. They share a father, but one is a member of the man’s public family and the other a member of his secret family. The “secret” daughter and her mother know about the public family, but the public family has no idea the father is a bigamist.

The dynamics of this kind of family never crossed my mind.

Not once. Ever.

But as I read the accounts of these young girls, navigating their middle-class adolescents—the relationships with their parents, the questions about the future, the pressures of boys—with the added pressure of their unique family life, my emotional reaction was, surprisingly, unsurprised.

“Of course,” I thought, as I read how young Dana learned that she was the secret, “I know exactly how she would feel.”

“Yes,” I nodded, as teenage Chaurisse turned from sympathy to tough love on her grieving mother, “that’s what I would do.”

That, I think, is the power of strong literature: It brings to life a world and people you have never known.

Silver Sparrow was a quick read: It took maybe five days from purchase to completion, and I do my reading in stolen snippets on lunch hours and between my son’s bedtime and my own. I read it with the devouring appetite that, too often, is reserved for guilty-pleasure paperbacks; that is to say, it was literature that was a true pleasure to read.