Girl, Woman, Other is a wonderful novel about all the different kinds of people in the world and their commonality. The novel tells the story of 12 different women all of whom have a common connection—some obvious and some less so.
The story begins with an introduction to Amma. When we first meet her, Amma is 50 years old and preparing for the opening of her play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, at the National Theatre in London. In her earlier years, Amma was quite radical and Amma and her glamorous friend Dominique started their own theatre company, Bush Women Theatre, which lasted for only a very short time. In those days, Amma and Dominique had a ”reputation for heckling shows that offended their political sensibilities.” But of course things change, and so did Amma, who had “spent decades on the fringe…until the mainstream began to absorb what once was radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it.”
Amma and Dominique, both lesbians and both with mixed ancestry, were never romantic but remained the closest of friends. Amma, who has many romantic partners, has a daughter (Yazz) with her gay friend, Roland. Dominiue ultimately leaves London and moves to America. She returns for Amma’s opening.
Carole is a poor child made good. Or so it seems. After an extraordinarily difficult childhood, Carole is mentored by a teacher in her high school and ultimately goes off to Oxford, where “there are very few dark skinned students.” Carole becomes a highly successful banker, marries a white man named Freddy and is greatly resentful that her former teacher, Mrs. King, takes credit for Carole’s success. Carole’s mother, Bummi, is from Nigeria, and Bummi and her husband, Augustine have a hard time finding success in England. Augustine dies and ultimately, after a deep relationship with a woman from her church, Bummi marries a widower named Kofi. Bummi did not realize that Carole’s success would cause Carole to reject her culture.
Carole’s teacher, Mrs. King, is actually Amma’s first childhood friend. Shirley King became a history teacher at Peckham School for Boys and Girls right out of school. She is energetic and passionate at the start but that enthusiasm slowly wanes. Between being black and being a woman she receives very little respect from her peers. “Shirley felt the pressure was now on to be a great teacher and an ambassador for every black person in the world.” One of the other teachers at the school, Penelope, is dismissive of Shirley and rude. As time goes by, however, Penelope and Shirley become friends. Penelope, who is white, was adopted as a child and the desire to know her natural parents has followed her through her life.
Hattie, also known as GG, is 93 years old when we meet her. We learn about her history, her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. One of her great grandchildren is Megan, who chooses to go by Morgan and is in a relationship with Bibi, formerly a man who transitioned to a woman. Despite her age and some difficulty understanding her great granddaughter, Hattie accepts Morgan and Bibi and becomes close to both of them.
At the end of the novel everything (and everyone) comes together in a believable and brilliant manner. Through the stories of all of these diverse people, the novel explains that no matter who we are, no matter our background, our color, our religion or our sexual orientation, we all have commonality and ultimately we are all people with emotions, loves, families and histories. The book is just fabulous and so deserving of the 2019 Booker Prize. You can reserve Girl, Woman, Other at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.