Girl, Woman, Otherby Bernardine Evaristo
From one of Britain’s most celebrated writers of color, a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity among an interconnected group of Black British women
Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize
“A must-read about modern Britain and womanhood… An impressive, fierce novel about the lives of black British families, their struggles, pains, laughter, longings and loves… Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humor. There is never a single moment of dullness in this book and the pace does not allow you to turn away from its momentum.”—Booker Prize judges
Bernardine Evaristo is the winner of the 2019 Booker Prize and the first black woman to receive this highest literary honor in the English language. Girl, Woman, Other is a magnificent portrayal of the intersections of identity and a moving and hopeful story of an interconnected group of Black British women that paints a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and looks back to the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean.
The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.
Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form that borrows technique from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that shows a side of Britain we rarely see, one that reminds us of all that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.
WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
Named One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2019
Named Roxane Gay’s Favorite Book of 2019
Named Author of the Year by the British Book Awards
Winner of the Indie Book Award for Fiction (UK)
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Dublin Literary Award, the Gordon Burn Prize, a Publishing Triangle Award, the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award, the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, and the Visionary Honours Award
Longlisted for the Australian Book Industry Award
Named an Amazon Best Book of the Year
Named a Best Book of the Year by the New Yorker, the Washington Post, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Vogue, the Seattle Times, Literary Hub, the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, the Times Literary Supplement, Kirkus Reviews, Shelf Awareness, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, the Washington Independent Review of Books, the New Statesman, the Evening Standard, and the Daily Telegraph
“Girl, Woman, Other received half a Booker Prize, but it deserves all the glory . . . A breathtaking symphony of black women’s voices, a clear-eyed survey of contemporary challenges that’s nevertheless wonderfully life-affirming . . . Together, all these women present a cross-section of Britain that feels godlike in its scope and insight.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A big, busy novel with a large root system . . . Evaristo has a gift for appraising the lives of her characters with sympathy and grace while gently skewering some of their pretensions . . . Evaristo’s lines are long, like Walt Whitman’s or Allen Ginsberg’s, and there are no periods at the ends of them. There’s a looseness to her tone that gives this novel its buoyancy. Evaristo’s wit helps too.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“The ambition of this novel, the inventive structure and syntax, the grand scope, all make for the most absorbing book I read all year. The characters are so richly drawn, so intimately known by Evaristo, and so perfectly rendered on the page. This novel is a master class in storytelling. It is absolutely unforgettable. When I turned the final page, I felt the ache of having to leave the world Evaristo created but I also felt the excitement of getting to read the book all over again. It should have won the Booker alone. It deserves all the awards and then some.”—Roxane Gay
“Exuberant, capacious, and engaging . . . Complex, astute, painful, funny, enlightening, and most of all enjoyable . . . An elegant and compulsively readable account of the black women of England . . . Plumbing the many dimensions of her characters’ lives, Evaristo revels in universals and singularities alike . . . The final scene triumphantly pulls together the novel’s dominant themes. I laughed, I cried, I turned the last page fully satisfied.”—Rebecca Steinitz, Boston Globe
“A sprawling book, but too intimate to be considered an epic . . . Each of these characters—and indeed the doting spouses, or abusive girlfriends, or foul-mouthed school chums, or lecherous preachers, or the rest of the human parade—feels specific, and vibrant, and not quite complete, insofar as the best fictional characters remain as elusive and surprising as real people are. This is a feat; the whole book is . . . Evaristo is a gifted portraitist, and you marvel at both the people she conjures and the unexpected way she reveals them to you . . . Yes, prizes are silly. But sometimes they’re deserved.”—Rumaan Alam, New Republic
“[Girl, Woman, Other is] about almost everything. Politics, parenthood, sexuality, racism and colorism, immigration, domestic violence, infidelity, friendship, love, all the ways we misunderstand each other, the way life surprises us with its unfolding. This is a partial list . . . Bernardine is here to turn on the lights, give you your money’s worth, and let you decide for yourself.”—Marion Winik, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Deserves every accolade, and more . . . A creative and technical marvel—a sprawling, unpunctuated, and improbably joyful account of twelve interconnected characters in modern-day Britain . . . A book so bursting with wit, empathy, and insight, its clear-eyed reflections on race and feminism hardly ever feel like polemics; there’s too much pure, vivid life on every page.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[Evaristo] is a master at parsing out individual voices while also collaging them into a beautiful chorus, exploring the ways identities and people’s lives intersect.”—Katie Yee, Literary Hub
“Compulsively readable . . . There’s something truly pleasurable to watching a virtuoso at work, and Evaristo’s ability to switch between voices, between places, and between moods brings to mind an extraordinary conductor and her orchestra.”—Paris Review
“Girl, Woman, Other changed my thinking.”—Tom Stoppard, Times Literary Supplement
“Not just one of my favorite books of this year, but one of the most insightful books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading . . . In this inspired piece of writing, Evaristo examines the realities and complexities of womanhood in the UK.”—Nicola Sturgeon, Guardian
“Look no further than Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other for the most distinctive novel of the year . . . Superlatives pale in the shadow of the monumental achievement of Girl, Woman, Other. Few adjectives suffice. It’s hard not to overpraise this brilliant novel. Evaristo’s verbal acrobatics do things language shouldn’t be able to do. It’s a Cirque du Soleil of fiction. Readers should put down whatever book they’re reading and immerse themselves in this one. Bernardine Evaristo is the writer of the year. Girl, Woman, Other is the book of the decade.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“The novel flows seamlessly, like water, from thought to thought, character to character . . . Eminently readable and emotionally intense.”—New York Journal of Books
“Magnificent . . . As she creates a space for immigrants and the children of immigrants to tell their stories, Evaristo explores a range of topics both contemporary and timeless. There is room for everyone to find a home in this extraordinary novel. Beautiful and necessary.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Evaristo beguiles with her exceptional depictions of a range of experiences of black British women . . . A stunning powerhouse of vibrant characters and heartbreaks.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Courageous . . . Hearing from mothers and their children, teachers and their students across generations, readers might expect that they’ll get to see just what these characters can’t know about one another, but they won’t imagine the dazzling specificities nor the unspooling dramas; they will be entertained, educated, and riveted.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Girl, Woman, Other, the intermingling stories of generations of black British women told in a gloriously rich and readable free verse, will surely be seen as a landmark in British fiction.”—Guardian
“In Girl, Woman, Other, Evaristo adopts an even bigger canvas, with a sparkling new novel of interconnected stories . . . In Evaristo’s eighth book she continues to expand and enhance our literary canon. If you want to understand modern day Britain, this is the writer to read.”—New Statesman
“Brims with vitality . . . The form [Evaristo] chooses here is breezily dismissive of convention. The flow of this prose-poetry hybrid feels absolutely right, with the pace and layout of words matched to the lilt and intonation of the characters’ voices . . . She captures the shared experience that make us, as she puts it in her dedication, ‘members of the human family.’”—Financial Times
“The voices of black women come to the fore in a swirl of interrelated stories that cover the past century of British life. Wide-ranging, witty and wise, it’s a book that does new things with the novel form.”—Sunday Times
“This masterful novel is a choral love song to black womanhood.”—Elle (UK)
“Evaristo is known for narratives that weave through time and place with crackling originality. Girl, Woman, Other is no exception.”—Vogue
“Ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing, [Evaristo] jumps from life to life weaving together personal tales and voices in an offbeat narrative that’ll leave your mind in an invigorated whirl. This is an exceptional book that unites poetry, social history, women’s voices and beyond. You have to order it right now in fact.”—Stylist
“Spanning a century and following the intertwined lives of twelve people, this is a paean to what it means to be black, British and female. Evaristo’s prose hums with life as characters seem to step off the page fully formed. At turns funny and sad, tender and true, this book deserves to win awards.”—Red
“Marvelous . . . [The characters] sing off the page as they negotiate their own way of being through the prisms of race and gender. In prose that defies many of the rules of punctuation, and feels all the more immediate for it . . . Summons up a limitless canvas of black female experience that’s by turns funny, acutely observed and heart-snagging. Terrific.”—Metro
“A magnificent read from a writer with a gift for humanity.”—Observer
“Beautiful, hilarious and moving homage to what it means to be black and British. Girl, Woman, Other celebrates the rich variety of black women across generations.”—Refinery29
“Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life.”—Ali Smith, author of Spring
“There is an astonishing uniqueness to Bernardine Evaristo’s writing, but especially showcased in Girl, Woman, Other. How she can speak through twelve different people and give them each such distinct and vibrant voices is astonishing. I loved it. So much.”—Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie
“Hilarious, heart-breaking, and honest. Generations of women and the people they have loved and unloved—the complexities of race, sex, gender, politics, friendship, love, fear and regret. The complications of success, the difficulties of intimacy. I truly haven’t enjoyed reading a book in so long.”—Warsan Shire, author of Teaching My Grandmother How to Give Birth
“Bernardine Evaristo’s books are always exciting, always subversive, a reminder of the boundless possibilities of literature and the great worth in reaching for them. Her body of work is incredible.”—Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People
“Once again, Bernardine Evaristo reminds us she is one of Britain’s best writers, an iconic and unique voice, filled with warmth, subtly and humanity. Girl, Woman, Other is an exceptional work, presenting an alternative history of Britain and a dissection of modern Britain that is witty, exhilarating and wise.”—Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant
“Bernardine Evaristo is without doubt one of the most important voices in contemporary British literature. Her phenomenal writing gets at the heart of what affects and concerns us most in these times.”—Jacob Ross, author of The Bone Readers
“Girl, Woman, Other is brilliant. I feel like a ghost walking in and out and in again on different people’s lives, different others. Some I feel close to, some I feel I must have met and some are so ‘other’ that I have to stretch myself to see them. Mind expanding.”—Philippa Perry, author of How To Be a Parent
“Bernardine Evaristo is one of those writers who should be read by everyone, everywhere. Her tales marry down-to-earth characters with engrossing storylines about the UK today.”—Elif Shafak, author of Three Daughters of Eve
“Bernardine Evaristo is the most daring, ambitious, imaginative and innovative of writers, and Girl, Woman, Other is a fantastic novel that takes fiction and black women’s stories into new directions.”—Inua Ellams, author of The Half God of Rainfall
“For a fresh and inspiring take on writing about the African diaspora, there’s nothing like a new book by Bernardine Evaristo. Somehow she does it every time!”—Margaret Busby, editor of Daughters of Africa
1. Of the various characters in Girl, Woman, Other, which did you relate to the most and why? Consider why the author chose to start the novel with Amma, Yazz, and Dominique’s stories. Who is being othered in the novel? Provide examples from the text to support your answers. Share what the title means to you. What experiences have you had that made you feel a sense of otherness?
2. It is believed that the last Amazon of Dahomey, a woman named Nawi, died in 1979 at the age of 100. What is the significance of the play and what does it reveal about Amma? Of the twelve women, who do you think represents Nawi in the novel? Talk about the lives and occupations of the female characters. How do they evolve over the course of the story? What events trigger their growth?
3. Discuss how marriage, identity and sexuality are depicted in the novel.
4. The definition of “winsome” is “attractive or appealing in appearance and character.” Why do you think the author chose this name for one of the women? Discuss whether the naming is an indication of character. What are your thoughts about Winsome’s betrayal and her lack of remorse?
5. Take it a step further and examine the differences and similarities between Shirley and her mother, Winsome. Not many people seem to find Shirley interesting or like her. She’s a closeted homophobe who considers Amma one of her best friends. Explain the cognitive dissonance of the character.
6. Talk about Evaristo’s unusual structuring of the novel. There are no periods or capitalization, and the stories weave through time and jump to different points of view. How did this affect your understanding of the characters and the novel as a whole? Did this help you to develop an intimacy with the women? Explain your answers.
7. Evaristo’s depiction of the lesbian experience is nuanced, varied, and complex. How does the novel undo the frequently used lesbian trope of everything ending badly? What other lesbian tropes does the novel dismantle?
8.Different eras in British history are used to convey a sense of place in the novel. What is unique about the various settings, and how did it enhance or take away from the stories?
9. How does Evaristo incorporate historical occurrences such as Brexit and aspects of the African diaspora into her stories? What other themes did she emphasize in the novel, and what do you think she was trying to get across to the reader about colorism and racism?
10. Evaristo illuminates the traumatic effects of rape and how one life-changing moment can “other” the victims. This theme is explored in detail in the “Carole” story. How does her ordeal as a teen change her life and relationships going forward? Share how reading about her secret made you feel.
11. What are the major conflicts in the story, especially between mothers and daughters? Why does Grace refuse to connect with her daughter Harriet? Consider what the author is saying about the complicated relationship between a mother and child.
12. Discuss the group dynamic of the Unfuckwithables. Compare and contrast the new guard of activism of Yazz’s group and Morgan to that of the old guard of Amma and Dominique.
13. Take a closer look at how Evaristo uses Amma’s play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, to explore the creative process. Roland and Dominique both think that Amma could be doing more with her talents, with Dom going so far as to plead with her to move to the States to explore new opportunities. Had the novel continued, what do you think would have been Amma’s decision? If you were in Amma’s situation, what would your choice have been?
14. On page 447, Dominique says to Amma, “Feminism needs tectonic plates to shift; not a trendy make-over.” What are your feelings about what she says? Do you consider yourself a feminist and if so, what does feminism mean to you? What does Dom and Amma’s conversation about modern feminism and transgender rights say about them as individuals?
15. As the story unfolds, we learn that Penelope is adopted. What else do we learn about her? When did you start to suspect her identity? Did the author leave clues along the way? Did you envision a different ending for the characters? Explain your answers.
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Third Girl from the Left by Martha Southgate
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Zami by Audre Lorde
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Reading Group Guide by Keturah Jenkins