Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret child isn’t so shocking, at least for author Tayari Jones. Her new novel, “Silver Sparrow,” revolves around an “outside family.” Here’s how Jones gave voice to a man’s double-life, a woman’s complicity and his two daughters caught in the middle.
How did the idea of a novel based on “outside families” come about?
“Outside families” are such a cornerstone of Western literature. Think about it — all the Greek myths are about Zeus and his “outside” kids. I really wanted to write a story about the complicated negotiations between two families, and I wanted to look at what happens when families are not blended. It happens all the time. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. This book gives the hidden daughter, the silver sparrow, a chance to speak.
Do you feel like your novels capture slices of the real African-American experience?
My novels capture African-American experiences, American experiences and human experiences — because as African-Americans, we are all these things. I want to write stories about people who are having sort of ordinary lives — either in the ’hood or in the Hamptons.
What roles do social class and privilege play in the novel?
In many ways, the matter of “outside families” is a question of privilege. There is the money issue — of course the “legitimate” family has more resources. But there is the privilege that comes with having a relationship that is sanctioned by the law. This feeling of having the right to say in public: “This is my father” — or even, “I exist.
Do you feel “Silver Sparrow” is a hopeful novel?
Truth-telling is always hopeful. This is a story that brings from the shadows one of the society’s little secrets. Silver sparrow children are everywhere, but no one sees them. So, any time you shine light on someone that has been in the dark, this is hopeful.