Girl, Woman, Other, the joint recipient of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, is a gripping and lyrical portrait of the lives of twelve characters, mainly Black women. By the end of the book, Bernadine Evaristo brings all twelve together to create a masterful ensemble of characters who paint a striking picture of modern day Britain. Whether you loved Girl, Woman, Other for its exploration of self and relationships or for its comments on race, religion, and gender in contemporary society, you are sure to enjoy these six books.
1. Mr. Loverman, by Bernadine Evaristo
Evaristo’s other works are perhaps an obvious place to look if you enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other, and it is worth making a special mention of her 2013 book, Mr. Loverman. This story also explores the Black British experience, but from the perspective of one central character, a seventy-four-year-old Antiguan immigrant named Barry. Known for his big personality and extravagant taste, Barry creates a life and raises a family in Hackney with his wife Carmel. He has, however, also spent the last sixty years in a relationship with Morris, his childhood best friend. Carmel knows her husband has been cheating on her, but has no idea that it’s been Morris all along.
The book explores the choices Barry is forced to make when his marriage finally hits a breaking point. Evaristo’s poetic prose and careful construction of character is on display in Mr. Loverman, but where this novel differs is in the focus on only one character’s story. Where Girl, Woman, Other gives us twelve protagonists to love, hate, and everything in between, Mr. Loverman allows readers the opportunity to stay with Barry for longer, to more deeply explore the experience of an older, gay Black man within London’s Caribbean community. Barry’s touching story and extremely lovable persona will stay with you long after you finish this book.
2. Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie
Home Fire is similar to Girl, Woman, Other, both thematically in its discussion of the intersection of race, religion, and gender in Britain, and also in its presentation of the various perspectives of different characters as their lives entwine. Written as a modern reworking of the epic classic Antigone, Home Fire centers around siblings Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz, who are orphaned when their mother dies and their father leaves them for the jihad.
After Isma sacrifices much of her youth to bring up her younger siblings, she is finally given an opportunity to pursue her own path in the United States. Isma is unable to forget her worries about headstrong Aneeka and especially about Parvaiz, who has vanished across the globe to pursue his father’s jihadist legacy. When Eamonn, the son of a prominent politician, enters both of the sisters’ lives, the families become inescapably linked.
It is impossible to put this novel down as it speeds toward its heart-rending conclusion. Like Girl, Woman, Other, Shamsie’s narrative is a masterful construction of character, and ultimately begs the question: How far would you go and what sacrifices would you make for love?
3. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is about the experience of British immigrants. Although she has published many widely acclaimed works since her debut with White Teeth in 2000, this is still my first Smith recommendation.
Despite being Smith’s debut, White Teeth is brimming with a striking confidence of authorial voice. The book follows the lives of two wartime friends, Englishman Archibald Jones and Bengali Samad Iqbal, and their families through the decades, all leading up to the turn of the millennium. After a disastrous first marriage, Archie marries a Jamaican girl half his age, and together they have a daughter. At the same time, Samad marries his arranged bride, also much younger, and has twins. The novel follows these families and the people they meet in North London through the late twentieth century and leading up to the millenium.
On publication, this book was hailed as a masterful portrait of a modern multicultural Britain. In particular, White Teeth deals with the generational divide which affects many immigrant families, also an important thematic concern of Girl, Woman, Other. Despite the nineteen year gap between the two texts, both resonate as powerful and diverse depictions of the voices which make up modern day Britain.
4. The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
If you enjoyed the way Girl, Woman, Other divided itself into sections narrated by different protagonists, you may enjoy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2008 collection of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck. The settings of these stories vary between the United States and Adichie’s home country of Nigeria, and come together as an intense and intelligent discussion of the struggle of clashing cultures and the relationships which bind us together.
This collection is made up of twelve stories, all filled with the stunning wisdom that Adichie guarantees, but in particular The Arrangers of Marriage and The Headstrong Historian stood out to me. In The Arrangers of Marriage, Chinaza moves to America with her new husband, a man who has completely abandoned his Nigerian heritage in an attempt to fully assimilate to American culture. As she struggles to understand her new husband and adjust to her new home, this story depicts the often fraught relationship between husband and wife, as well as between American and Nigerian cultures. The Headstrong Historian is the story of Ngwamba, who watches the increase of Western influence among the younger members of the Igbo tribe. Later, her granddaughter Grace becomes a historian specialising in Nigerian perspectives of their history.
Fans of the various perspectives of Girl, Woman, Other, and the way Evaristo portrays the conflicts we experience—those between man and woman, collisions of culture, or those of generational gaps—will undoubtedly enjoy Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck.
5. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr’s 2014 book All the Light We Cannot See strays away from prior recommendations, all of which take place primarily in the contemporary period and focus on immigrant experiences and modern multiculturalism. In contrast, this book takes place almost entirely during World War II, and alternates between the perspectives of the two protagonists, Marie-Laure and Warner.
Marie-Laure is a young blind girl who flees Paris with her father after the Nazi invasion and lives with her great uncle in the walled seaside town of Saint-Malo in Northwest France. Her father, the locksmith and keeper of keys for the Museum of Natural History in Paris, carries with him what may be the most prized and dangerous jewel in all of Europe. Warner grows up as an orphan in a small mining town in Germany and becomes enamoured by a small, basic radio through which he can listen to news, music, and information from far away places he can only imagine. When Warner becomes an expert at fixing these tiny radios, he earns a place at a prestigious school training the Nazi youth, and is eventually put to work tracking down members of the resistance.
As Doerr flits between narrating Marie-Laure and Warner, the costs of war add up, and the paths of these characters become more and more intertwined. Like Girl, Woman, Other, the depiction of varying perspectives creates both a beautiful and heartbreaking narrative, and shows the reader the moving ways in which war brings even the most different characters together. For those who were attached to Evaristo’s characters by the end of her book, All the Light We Cannot See is a must-read.
6. Normal People, by Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney’s Normal People follows the lives of two protagonists, Marianne and Connell. Classmates in a rural Irish town, Connell is a popular rugby player lacking neither friends nor attention from girls. Marianne is an outcast, lonely and considered a freak by her classmates. When Connell’s mother gets a cleaning job at Marianne’s house, the two form an unlikely bond.
Both go on to attend college where the tables turn and Marianne discovers newfound popularity while Connell struggles to fit in. Normal People explores the way in which people fail one another in love, and attempt to subsequently redeem themselves. The text comments on the relationship between family members and friends, but where Normal People really shines is in its depiction of the ways people love, or fail to love. Fans of Girl, Woman, Other who were left wanting more romantic relationships will enjoy Sally Rooney’s portrayal of Connell and Marianne.