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Silver Sparrow

by Tayari Jones

Family Drama Literary Fiction Modern and Contemporary Fiction Sharing Diverse Voices

LoveReading View on Silver Sparrow

Set in 1980s Atlanta, Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow is a rich tour de force that sparkles with wit, warmth and candid lyricism. Exploring the weight of secrets and the complexities of love and family life through the compelling coming of age stories of sisters estranged by their father’s bigamy, this novel lingers long in the soul.

The truth is a strange thing. Like pornography, you know when you see it.” This potent proclamation cuts to the novel’s core, for Dana and her mother Gwen are the other wife, the other daughter, of bigamist James, and they know this truth while his first wife and daughter remain oblivious. Upset when James tells her that being his second daughter “You are the one that’s a secret,” Gwen poignantly informs Dana that rather than being secret, she’s simply “unknown. That little girl there doesn’t know she has a sister. You know everything.” Knowledge that she possesses the truth offers Dana consolation, of sorts.

While James’s other family is financially better off, both wives have a distinct lack of agency. Indeed, the novel is sharp on showing how women often have to make their lives from what men decide, such as when Gwen remarks that when you’re four weeks late, “All you can do is give him the news and let him decide if he is going to leave or if he is going to stay.” The novel is also powerful on elemental love and the nature of memory, such as Dana’s response to being gifted a fur coat her father won in a card game: “To this day and for the rest of my life I will always have a soft spot for a man with rum on his breath.

In time, during her own tempestuous teenage years, Dana orchestrates encounters with her sister and they become friends, with tension rising as the secret threatens to detonate. With finely drawn, flawed characters that pull readers’ loyalties in different directions, this commanding, compassionate novel confirms the author’s exceptional gifts.

Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Joanne Owen

Silver Sparrow Synopsis

A breathtaking tale of family secrets, from the international bestselling author of An American Marriage.

A Most Anticipated Book for 2020 according to The Sunday Times, the FT and the Guardian

'My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.'

This is the story of a man's deception, a family's complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. James Witherspoon has two families, one public, the other a closely guarded secret. But when his daughters meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows the truth. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.

Silver Sparrow is the stunning new novel from the critically acclaimed winner of the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, one of the most important writers of her generation.

Silver Sparrow Press Reviews

'Compelling... It's hard to resist the momentum of this dual coming-of-age story, and Jones's imperfect, large-hearted heroines are not soon forgotten.' - Observer

'Jones'.. latest novel also studies a way of loving, and of being a family, that doesn't fit the confines that American society allows or expects.' - Spectator

'Bigamy is what gives the novel its dramatic impetus, but it's the double coming-of-age story that gives it heart... [A] shrewd exploration of off-the-record relationships.' - Sunday Telegraph

'This book is as moving, intimate and wise as An American Marriage on the topics of marriage, family and womanhood, and deserves similar acclaim.' - Guardian

'Do not miss this can't-actually-stop-reading-it novel (out 19 March) from the author of the Women's Prize for Fiction-winning An American Marriage. Opening with the instantly gripping sentence: My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist, it's the story of two sisters - Dana and Chaurisse - one whom knows her father's secret and one who doesn't. Told from both their points of view, this is a book about love and belonging, family and secrets and a reminder that we all have our own take on things: rightly or wrongly.' - Stylist

'Jones conjures up 1980s Atlanta with conviction and has a pungently descriptive turn of phrase... Best of all, you feel utterly immersed in Jones's knotty moral dilemma and as torn in your loyalties as the characters themselves.' - The Times

'Jones writes in a relaxed narrative style... She moves easily from depictions of Atlanta between the 1960s and the 1980s to the frustrations of teenage life and handles larger questions of birth right and belonging with admirable capaciousness and generosity.' - Financial Times

'Jones' characters have depth and soul as she scathingly shatters the illusion that your parents can always be relied upon... it has a dignity and assurance to it that's quite intense.' - Herald, Scotland

'Last year's winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction follows up An American Marriage with another beautiful novel.' - Good Housekeeping

'Heartbreaking... Silver Sparrow confirms Jones' immense talent, particularly when writing about the more extreme pressures of family life.' - i newspaper

'Beautiful.' - The Spectator

'How does Tayari Jones follow up the Women's Prize-winning success of An American Marriage? With an absolute belter, that's how.' - Red Magazine

'An affecting story about family, love and marriage.' - Radio Times

'This dazzlingly real novel shines light into the emotional lives of women: married, on their own, betrayed, battling for something better.' - Sainsbury's Magazine

'Sparky, sharp, sorrowful.' - Sunday Express

'Cleverly structured, emotionally punchy.' -- Daily Telegraph 'A book rich in complications and secrets...The nature of love is one of Jones's central themes, and it's testament to her gifts that we care equally about both girls.' - Daily Mail

'A love story... Full of perverse wisdom and proud joy... Jones's skill for wry understatement never wavers.' - O: The Oprah Magazine

'Charting a vast emotional unknown is Tayari Jones's compelling third novel, Silver Sparrow, in which a teenage girl's coming of age in 1980s Atlanta is shadowed by her dawning understanding of a corrosive secret - her father's second family.' - Vogue

'Wise to the thorny complexities of race and class... Admirably clear-eyed.' - Metro

'Silver Sparrow will break your heart before you even know it. Tayari Jones has written a novel filled with characters I'll never forget. This is a book I'll read more than once.' - Judy Blume

'One of those 'just one more chapter' kind of books that require much last-minute changing of plans, because real life feels far less amusing, appalling, shocking, and loving than the world of its characters.' - Slate

'An exciting read all the way through.' - Chicago Tribune

'Tayari Jones has taken Atlanta for her literary terroir, and like many of our finest novelists, she gives readers a sense of place in a deeply observed way. But more than that, Jones has created in her main characters tour guides of that region: honest, hurt, observant and compelling young women whose voices cannot be ignored... Impossible to put down.' - Los Angeles Times

'Populating this absorbing novel is a vivid cast of characters, each with his own story... Jones writes dialogue that is realistic and sparkling, with an intuitive sense of how much to reveal and when.' - Washington Post

'Jones beautifully evokes Atlanta in the 1980s while creating gritty, imperfect characters whose pain lingers in the reader's heart.' - Kirkus

'A graceful and shining work about finding the truth.' - Library Journal (starred review)

'Award winner Tayari Jones weaves a tale of Black bigamy and two families in the fascinating fiction of Silver Sparrow.' - Ebony

'Silver Sparrow grabs you with a first sentence that manages to be both matter of fact and mysterious and refuses to release you until she has finished a story that takes you deep into the lives of a family that is anything but ordinary.' - Pearl Cleage, author of Till You Hear from Me

'Silver Sparrow is rich, substantive, meaningful. It is also, at turns, funny and sharp, haunting and heartbreaking.' - The Root

'Jones's prose is chock-full of lyricism, grace and wisdom.' - Observer

'Populating this absorbing novel is a vivid cast of characters... One of literature's most intriguing extended families.' - Washington Post

'Jones is very good with character, catching the whole texture of a life in a phrase or two.' - Sunday Times

'Full of perverse wisdom and proud joy... Jones's skill for wry understatement never wavers.' - O: The Oprah Magazine

'A bruising, uneasy read at times, Jones' characters have depth and soul.' - My Weekly

'Makes good use of multiple viewpoints and deals in the universal themes of love and trust.' - Fit and Well

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781786078629
Publication date: 22/10/2020
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781786077967
Publication date: 19/03/2020
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781786078629
Publication date: 22nd October 2020
Author: Tayari Jones
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 368 pages
Genres: Family Drama, Literary Fiction, Modern and Contemporary Fiction, Diverse Voices,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Family & relationships, Dating, relationships, living together & marriage,

About Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, and Leaving Atlanta. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She serves on the MFA faculty at Rutgers and blogs on writing at She lives in Brooklyn.

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