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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every social sciences syllabus should include this book
Born to a white mother and a Black father, both intellectuals and civil rights activists, Birdie Lee and her older sister Cole invent ways to survive the racist tangle of 1970's America. The sisters are so close they speak a secret language they call Elemeno, after their favorite letters in the alphabet. The survival of the imaginary Elemeno people, Cole explains,...
Published on December 30, 1998

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful language; yet seems unfinished...
I thought this book was well written. The language was simple yet exquisite and at times, so telling, so real. It just seems that there are gaping holes in the story--like Cole. What was her story? And the mother's story seemed unfinished, just like the father's. I agree with the reviewer who said that the other characters were two-dimensional. The ending disappointed...
Published on April 7, 2000


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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every social sciences syllabus should include this book, December 30, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Hardcover)
Born to a white mother and a Black father, both intellectuals and civil rights activists, Birdie Lee and her older sister Cole invent ways to survive the racist tangle of 1970's America. The sisters are so close they speak a secret language they call Elemeno, after their favorite letters in the alphabet. The survival of the imaginary Elemeno people, Cole explains, depends on their ability to move chameleon-like, through their surroundings. To survive they must blend in. Birdie asks, "What is the point of surviving if you have to disappear?" [...] The book's honesty is surprising. In essence, it is the story of a mulatto girls' survival at the expense of her identity. Through Birdie's wise innocence we are invited to wander with her through a labyrinth of stereotypes where she must navigate a path of survival without losing who she is, simultaneously black and white. Senna's story warms the reader to the overdone subject of race without being even the slightest bit preachy. Senna is able to stick a needle into the immovable issue of race and weave a beautiful tale of loss and reality. The answer to the Elemeno's paradox of surviving is answered smoothly and without romance. Senna captures the flavor of time and place so vividly that the reader is left sitting at the table long after the feast with explicit reflection. The characters are funky, quirky and very human. Told in the first person, Birdie is a believably courageous and apt heroine. It is a privilege to visit the world through her eyes and impossible to take your own off the page.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The arduous in-between: black and white/girl and woman, September 13, 2000
By 
thbarry (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
Caucasia was chosen by my book club, and I must say that it is probably the most profound book I've read on being biracial and growing up in race conscious America. As someone who lived in Boston, MA for many years, I was fascinated by Senna's analysis of the race issue in a city that is still extremely racial and extremely segregated. I absolutely adored the relationship between the two sisters. I particularly appreciated the sensitivity with which Senna dealt with the girls growing up with a white liberal mother, who had no concept of day-to-day "black issues," i.e. braiding hair, the necessity of lotion. I would have liked more insight into the parents' initial attraction to one another, but then again, the book was not about how an African-American male in Boston in the 1960s could marry a white woman from an old New England family. My hat goes off to Senna for her marvelous work. Thanks for bringing these issues to the forefront and forcing American readers to wrestle with the tough notion of being biracial.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars who is danzy senna, August 12, 2001
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
this is one of the most touching and interestingly insightful stories i have read in a long time. i don't know why it touched me so deeply but it did. i don't know what senna's ethnic background is but if she is not black then she is all the more talented b/c the one thing that struck me most was how accurately she portrayed a black girl's feelings and impressions of certain things. (ex: like when she talked about the kids in new england who only drank and made out at parties while black kids liked to dance and also her impression of samantha and stuart) just little things that i can't think of off hand that made me believe birdie (senna actually) was biracial. i felt like i coould somehow trust her and believe in the authenticity of her emotions.this book was so much more convincing than books written by whites about blacks which strike me as obviously written by an outsider.
this book made me laugh, cry, and shake my head in agreement and disagreement(w/ sandy and deck on some of there ideas about racefor example). senna's writing was smooth and entertaining while still managing to provide food for thought. i just love this story...you should read this book.
hey, when will she be publishing her next work????
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning & sensitive debut novel with universal appeal, September 11, 1998
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Hardcover)
I decided to add my voice to the reviews for this most impressive first novel to voice the opinion that CAUCASIA has appeal universally - not just in the borders of the U.S. Though race relations are not such big issues in Australia, Senna's wider themes of the search for personal identity are handled with a writing style which is both confidant and evocative. Her unfolding story of a young girl's search for her place in both family and the wider community as she matures will appeal to all those who enjoyed James McBride's THE COLOR OF WATER - a book with similar biracial and personal identity themes. Danzy Senna is an exciting new literary talent and I can't wait to read her future offerings. CAUCASIA is, in my books, one of the best of the year.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, December 6, 2002
By 
busylady (Riverdale, IL United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
Birdie cannot remember a time when her parents were ever happy. This simple statement of fact paints the reality of Caucasia. After her parents, her Caucasian mother and black father, call it quits, their daughters Birdie, the youngest who looks white, and Cole with her brown skin and curly hair, become pawns to their parents insanity. Each parent is on the run with the child who most resembles him or her.
The story is told through the eyes of Birdie who misses her sister Cole so much that the only thing sustaining her is her belief in their eventual reunion. After Cole leaves in the middle of the night with Deck, their father, and his new black girlfriend headed for Brazil, "he needs a strong black woman, he's had enough of the crazy white girl", Birdie and her mother spend years traveling from one state to another staying one step ahead of the authorities or so her mother believes. After about 5 years on the run, they settle down in New Hampshire and there they are able to achieve some semblance of a normal life but in order to do this in this overwhelmingly white town, Birdie must pass for white. Senna chronicles Birdie's life as an adolescent with such grace and power, I could feel her pain. She was placed in an unbelievable situation but she coped and was able to overcome her situation.
Deck had a theory called Canaries in the Coal Mine based on the fact that canaries were placed into coal mines to gauge how poisonous the air underground was. He believed mulattos historically have gauged how poisonous American race relations are. I believe what multiracial individuals can really teach us all is tolerance, and show us how harmful and detrimental our attitudes about race really are. Perhaps they can lead us out of the coal mines. Paraphrasing Walter Mosley in Devil in the Blue Dress, race in America runs both ways, it harms us all socially, financially and most of all spiritually.
Reviewed by Ruby
APOOO BookClub
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful new talent, June 29, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
I was immediately captured by Danzy Senna's "Caucasia", and very impressed with her writing--the characters, neighborhoods, cities, and situations she describes are all very vivid and realistic. The story line itself was intriguing and thought-provoking; two bi-racial sisters separated in childhood by their parents break-up, the dark-skinned daughter disappearing with their Black father, and the fair-skinned daughter disappearing with their White mother. This split along skin-color lines has a huge impact on the lives of both girls, who are suddenly forced to move on with the formation of their identities without each other, when once they were intertwined with a fierce sisterly bond, and a secret language called Elemeno. I think being bi-racial myself is what drew me to this book originally, but the many different issues and themes in the book (racism, identity, political and philosophical fanatacism, etc)kept my interest. In my family, my mother is Black, and my father is White, and the book made me wonder if Cole and Birdie would have been separated the same way if their father Deck had been White, and their mother Sandy had been Black. A great read! I would highly recommend it to anyone.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HATS OFF TO MS. SENNA, January 18, 2000
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Hardcover)
I read this fantastic book durning my holiday vacation from work. This was truly a treat. I usually do not find an interest in the bi-racial, poor white mother and her black kids drama. However, as a black women my need to support this young black women by purchasing her first novel won out over the lack of desire to read what I though would be another tragic mullatto story. But from the very begining I could not put this very well written work down. I related to a mother's love for her children and love of a man, for the unexplainable reason of just because. I looked at my daughter alot while reading this book because it made me remember, that she is an indiviual and her reality is a lot different from mine because she is coming of age, and I have been there. I was entertained and enlighten. Ms. Senna has written more than a book about being bi-racial. She has written a book about love.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black, white, and gray....., December 29, 2002
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
While I found that Senna, in Caucasia, tells a coming-of age story, I also found it to have a disheartening story. Nevertheless, the message -- at least that I got -- is that no matter who you are, we are not defined by the color of your skin, the way you speak, where you live. This books takes us through "Birdie's" experiences with her mother when she and her mom separate from Deck (Birdie's father), and Birdie's sister, Cole. While the book does deal with white/black issues, the real story is more than skin deep -- the lesson, anyway. In the beginning of the story, the reader is charmed by Birdie's innocence and her made-up language "Elemeno" that she and her sister spoke. As time goes on, the charm to the book faded for me. Also, language barriers fade, racism fades, and the sad part is that I felt the book really leaves you in the gray area of life: That is, nothing is for certain, absolutes do not always hold true, and, in this gray area, no matter what we look like or where we are from we all are blessed and cursed with the most widespread of experiences: Life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Search for Identity, December 29, 2005
By 
Maripi (Ann Arbor, MI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Paperback)
Reading about Birdie's experience was painful for me. Though Birdie's story presents some pretty extreme circumstances, as a mixed race person with very light skin (white people often didn't realize I wasn't white), I could identify with a lot of what Birdie went through mentally and emotionally. I grew up during the sixties and early seventies, and, during those years, especially in certain parts of the country, the concept of multiculturalism wasn't really there in the way we are starting to see it today. Mixed race marriages and children were for a long time pretty revolutionary-at least it often felt that way (Maybe it's appropriate that Senna presents Birdie's parents as "revolutionaries" in her novel). If you had a black parent you were considered-and I think usually still are considered--black and, though like my siblings and I, you might live in the black community and see yourself as black, you didn't always feel accepted. Like Birdie, I spent a lot of time trying to prove myself and feeling defensive around other people whether they were black or white, because we didn't really feel as though we belonged anywhere. Our experience of white and black communities could not always be the same as that of a person who was not mixed or even the same as that of a mixed person who was darker skinned than we were.

A lot of the characters in Senna's novel are confused and ambivalent, because they are in relationships and circumstances that are not considered mainstream for the time and location of the story. Furthermore, since the story is told in retrospect from the viewpoint of a child between the ages of eight and fourteen years old, it makes a great deal of sense to me that certain things are as unclear to the reader as they are to Birdie. I think that this is the author's intent. Birdie, as a child would not know or even think to be concerned with certain things about her parents' relationship; she is justifiably confused about why her mother is on the run and can only echo what she heard from others or what she herself thinks from one moment to the next. Her terror at her parent's breakup, at the disappearance of her father and sister, and her mother's instability color her interpretation of events. She can't give us a clear picture of what's going on because she doesn't have it. Also, while I would also love to know more about Cole's experience, again, since this is Birdie's story, she can only speculate about Cole's experience and present it from her unique perspective. This doesn't invalidate Cole's experience.

Though it may seem to some readers that some of the relationships that Birdie describes are not relevant to the story, I think that they are very revealing and serve to emphasize the difficulty of Birdie's uncertain position. She has a pretty good idea of how Nick and Mona would react if the knew what she was, but she's afraid to confirm her fears by confronting them with that information-she's already seen how the white boys view and treat Samantha and how hostile the white girls are toward her as an outsider. Birdie feels like an outsider, but like most people doesn't want to be treated like an outsider. At the same time, she's aware that she's betraying herself, by hiding behind her identity as Jesse, though until the end she feels she has no choice. She and Samantha both deal with their situations in ways that allow them to survive within their environment. For them to become open allies would work against their survival in that environment. Most teen-agers would not jeopardize their chances at survival among peers who have already demonstrated how ruthless they can be in order to prove a point.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm saving this for my daughter., October 29, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Caucasia: A Novel (Hardcover)
From the moment I read the first page of Caucasia until I finished the authors acknowledgements, this book completely devoured me. This story and Senna's voice are so true to me right now, that as I read page after page, New York City and the rest of my life faded quietly back into an opaque background for her story. The author saves for us in perfect crystalline details the moments in which our true selves climb out, from wherever the world has convinced us to hide them, and forcibly define who we are.
Suffice it to say that, I am sending copies to the people that I have always wanted to understand me better, and I am saving the book in my hands for my daughter.
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Caucasia: A Novel
Caucasia: A Novel by Danzy Senna (Paperback - February 1, 1999)
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