We read to know we’re not alone.” These words, taken from William Nicholson’s play Shadowlands, capture our deep motivation to read. When we read, we see life through another’s eyes, sometimes recognizing our own desires, dreams, and disappointments. It’s like the feeling of a friend’s arm, silently extended around your shoulders. You’re not alone.
But as Christians, we are called to more than this. We’re called not to comfort ourselves but to discomfort ourselves. We’re called—like the Good Samaritan—to stop in the wayside world of the other, especially others who are least like ourselves. And sometimes, the passport to that world is a book.
Girl, Woman, Other is a 2019 Booker Prize–winning novel by Bernardine Evaristo, whose works experiment with prose and verse and explore the African diaspora. The book is set in London, my hometown. I recognize its places, streets, and turns of phrase. But its 12 protagonists could hardly be more different from me. Most were born in poverty. Most experiment sexually. All live as black or brown women in majority-white contexts. One whose faith had carried her through trials felt that faith die along with her beloved husband. (It was buried when her prosperity-gospel pastor traded sex for a small business loan.) But even across these differences, Evaristo conjures empathy with a magician’s flare. Indeed, the book is structured around empathy.
Chapters 1 to 4 narrate 12 women’s tales, in clusters of three. For example, chapter 1 gives us the keys first to Amma’s inner thoughts, then to those of her daughter, Yazz, and finally to those of her best friend, Dominique. We learn each woman ...1
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