[The JRB exclusive] Read an excerpt from Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other—‘One of my aims as a writer is to explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora’

The JRB presents an excerpt from Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.

Girl, Woman, Other
Bernardine Evaristo
Hamish Hamilton, 2019

In the ‘author statement’ on her website, Evaristo writes:

As a writer of fictions I like to mix things up temporally, spatially and stylistically—to cross the borders of genre, race, culture, gender, history and sexuality, most recently in Girl, Woman, Other and Mr Loverman. My Afro-diasporic interests have led me to writing books that connect ancient and modern history with our contemporary society. For example, in Blonde Roots and The Emperor’s Babe where I employ lashings of anachronisms to create worlds with shifting time frames that explore the relationship between the past and the present. In Lara I created multiple, inter-generational, interracial and inter-continental voices that examine the multicultural roots of the eponymous, mixed-race Lara. In Soul Tourists the past is revisited through ghosts of colour based on real characters in European history. One of my aims as a writer is to explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora, to play with ideas, conjure up original and innovative fiction and forms, and to subvert expectations and assumptions. Writing is an adventure, a journey into the unknown, and I enjoy liberating myself from the shackles of convention.

Read the excerpt:


      it is the night before LaTisha’s party and Carole and her mother
are sitting at the washed-out Formica kitchen table, Carole’s home-
work piled up on one side
      Carole wears flannelette shorts and her favourite vest with a teddy
bear on it
      dinner of pounded yam and bitter-leaf soup steams in a shared
wooden bowl
      they are perched thirty-two floors up in a tower block among hundreds
of others packed together like rows of crates spread wide and
stacked high
      they are over six hundred feet away from the concrete slabs and
green trees of ground level
      and closer than they should be to the planes in the flight path of
City Airport


      wears a house-wrappa with faded orange blooms knotted above
her breasts
      her arms are bare, hair free to stick up at crazy angles
      her spine is straight because she was taught to sit upright and
cross-legged on the floor, as she tells her daughter when she slouches,
sit up straight and speak properly, why do you talk like the tearaway
children of the street
      whose feet are strong and scarred from walking barefoot over
forested ground

      scoops up pounded yam with her hands, dipping it into the stew,
speaking in between mouthfuls
      let us wonder, Carole, at the genius of hyperbolic geometry, where
the sum of the angles adds up to less than 180 degrees
      let us wonder at how the ancient Egyptians worked out how to
measure an irregularly- shaped field
      let us wonder at how X was just a rare letter until algebra came
along and made it something special that can be unravelled to reveal
its inner value
      you see, maths is a process of discovery, Carole, it is like the exploration
of space, the planets were always there, it just took us a long
time to find them

      clever Mama, who taught her to send X and Y off into complicated
calculations and to trust them to present her with the right

      how she loved memorising the quadratic equation, when her
classmates didn’t even know what it was
      how she loved being the best at something, standing out

      as she did for sure the next day at LaTisha’s, having convinced
Mama (who was dozy about everything except maths) that she was at
a sleepover
      when she was at a party heaving with teenagers crowding the corridor,
curtains closed, furniture pushed to the sides in the living
room, two side-table lamps covered with red dishcloths creating a
nightclub vibe
      while the girls stood in groups dancing self-consciously in the
centre of the room and the guys loitered against the walls and Busta
Rhymes was played low enough not to bring the neighbours
      and LaTisha yelled at people not to get waved or misbehave and no
one was allowed into the bedrooms upon pain of death and definitely
no smoking and at the first whiff of whacky-backy she was gonna
evict the perpetrators because on my life, this ain’t no joke
      except Carole was drinking for the first time in her life, and
quickly got totally waved on vodka and lime so sweet she barely
noticed the 40% alcohol in it, drained several glasses through a
fluorescent squiggle straw like it was lemonade on a hot summer’s
      when Trey, Alicia’s older brother, who was studying Sports
Science at university, and his crew arrived
      here at last were real mandem, pure buff-ness, who swaggered
into the living room, much better than the boys Carole’s age who
were still pulling girls’ hair in the playground and running away

      she began amping it up in front of them
      glad that LaTisha had forced her to dress up and get your head out
of those useless books and grow up, Carole
      hoping the lipstick she was wearing for the first time hadn’t rubbed
off as she bunched her lips into a sexy pout
      as she flicked the glossy Cleopatra wig that hung down to her
      as she twerked her hips like the girls in the music videos, wearing
the PVC hot pants she’d borrowed from Chloe, the heels she’d borrowed
from Lauren that made her legs look really long and shapely
all of a sudden
      when she noticed he was staring at her, like she was The One,
even though he’d never noticed her before when he walked down the
high street
      no one had ever looked at her the way Trey was looking at her
tonight, at the tiny halter top that showed off her assets that had
grown from nothing to something mega- major in the past year
      where did they come from?
      she and LaTisha agreed human biology was so weird and random,


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