Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

9th May 2011


The first half of the book is told by his secret daughter, Dana, and the second by his ‘legitimate’ daughter, Chaurisse. Dana and her mother have always known that they were James’ second family, but his first wife and daughter are kept in the dark for almost twenty years.

This novel is constantly challenging your initial assumptions of the characters. My gut reaction is to always try to label characters as heroes and villains and victims, but this book doesn’t let you do that.

None of the characters are really innocent, neither are they particularly at fault. The snippets of backstory that are peppered through the main narrative are essential in understanding the characters’ present situation, and there are some twists in there that really throw you.

There are a couple of sub-plots and tangents that drag a little bit, but it is only irritating because it detracts from an otherwise thrilling story. The tension is building right from the first sentence, because it’s clear that there are going to be fireworks eventually. The climax certainly lived up to my expectations; I finished the last third of the book in an afternoon because I was so desperate to find out what happened.

Family relationships is a key theme for this book, but I also think that the notion of secrets and how they can consume you is important. Every character is holding things back, initially because they don’t want to hurt their loved ones, but there are points when the poisonous addiction of lies and secrecy threatens to take hold of them, particularly with Dana.

Although not explicit at all, this book talks a lot about sexual relationships, and draws attention to the fact that many women at this time had a kind of submissive loyalty to the men in their lives, and warped ideas about the role of ‘wife’, which are thankfully very difficult for us to relate to now.

Silver Sparrow will be published later this month by Algonquin, and can be pre-ordered in hardback for £9.32.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended for: Long plane journeys or a holiday where you could afford to lose yourself in it for a few hours. It will be a much better read in a few longer sessions, than trying to read a few pages here and there.

Other recommended reading: Donna Daley-Clarke’s Lazy Eye is the only thing I can possibly relate to this book, as a kind of British version of it. It covers many of the same themes, and is also told, in parts, from the point-of-view of a child observing the complications of his family.

Cariad Martin