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Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree Paperback – Bargain Price, August 27, 2008

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*Starred Review* Trading on the title of her first novel, the best-selling Kinflicks(1976), Alther presents Kinfolks, her first work of nonfiction, a wise, funny inquiry into the complexities of inheritance. A Tennessean with a New Yorker mother and a Virginian father, Alther grew up feeling like the Civil War incarnate and was mystified by her Cadillac-driving grandmother, who, for all her pride in her blueblood Virginia heritage, refused to contact her back-home relatives. But what induces Alther to turn genealogical sleuth is a cousin's declaration that he is a Melungeon. Melungeons are reputedly multiracial Appalachians sometimes burdened with six-fingered hands and a reputation for the evil eye. Controversial theories suggest African, Portuguese, Turkish, and/or Native American descent. High-spirited Alther's curiosity sends her to dusty courthouse archives, Native American casinos, and locales across Europe and Turkey, and her findings enable her to bring historical Appalachia into focus as a landing place for refugees from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Drolly hilarious and incisive, Alther attempts to decode family secrets, gets to know self-declared Melungeons, and considers her unexpected ties to Pocahontas, ultimately presenting a provocative take on the South's obsession with skin color. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Alther's voice is clear and purposeful...often tinged with an engaging, dry sense of humor...  Alther weaves her search in a manner that makes readers wish she had written the history books we all read as children." -- Appalachian Heritage Review

"Alther employs her considerable narrative skills and well-developed knack for humor in...a thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile read." -- Journal of Southern History

"Filled with good humor, fine storytelling, and acute observations of small town life...Anyone who enjoys the humor and turn of phrase of Bill Bryson, Garrison Keillor, or Jean Shepherd should enjoy KINFOLKS." -- Lodi News-Sentinel

"A fun read lightened by quirky characters and surprising insights...A unique journey through Appalachia and beyond." -- Mountain Xpress

"Compelling bits of history, raucous wit, genealogical sleuthing, and charming childhood memories...With equal parts humor, wonder, and investigative journalism, Alther takes the reader on a journey from eastern Tennessee through the wilds of genealogy." -- Wellesley Magazine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; Reprint edition (August 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155970876X
  • ASIN: B0046LUU8Q
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,183,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lisa Alther is the author of six novels -- KINFLICKS, ORIGINAL SINS, OTHER WOMEN, BEDROCK, FIVE MINUTES IN HEAVEN, and WASHED IN THE BLOOD. She has also written a memoir (KINFOLKS), a novella (BIRDMAN AND THE DANCER), a collection of short stories (STORMY WEATHER AND OTHER STORIES) and a narrative history of the Hatfield-McCoy feud (BLOOD FEUD). These books have been published in seventeen languages and have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide. Alther was born in Kingsport, Tennessee, in 1944. She currently lives in Tennessee, Vermont, and New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Karen K. Rowe on April 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Lisa Alther's book, "Kinfolks" is an outstanding portrait, written over the course of many years, of her search for her ancestral identity. I can well relate to Southern relatives who choose to ignore or deny the Native American (and whatever other) blood that we have inheirited. I come from a family who were born & raised in southeastern Kentucky. Oral histories were rampant and I was determined to try to find some proof one way or the other to confirm them or dispell them.

I 've traced my genealogy back further than I ever intended, and the same things kept coming up that Alther faced: who are these people from whom I've sprung and why are some of them designated as "mulatto" on the census? Why do my family members have all that beautiful black hair and can tan while stringing Christmas lights yet they have remarkably blue eyes???

While researching my own Melungeon/Metis roots, I came across this book. Alther saved me a lot of research and had access to documentation that I could never hope for. If you are researching the topic or if you are just looking for a well written, intelligent, hilarious road trip of a book, put this one on your list.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Murray Scher on April 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The search for identity begins at birth and continues through life for most of us. Lisa Alther generously takes us along on a significant foray into her attempt to uncover the hidden part of her immediate ancestry in an attempt to learn more of who she is. A product of the mountain South, Ms. Alther has been subtly deprived of a rich part of her heritage because of a mysterious concatenation of extra- and intra-familial events. Her wish to discern and explicate these events and the forces which shaped them lead her and the reader on an illuminating journey. She writes with the droll wit of a wise and not yet jaded resident of many locales, geographical and cultural, and one ends up the better for her willingness to share the often dazzling characters in her family, life, and history. As a psychologist and Southerner manqué I recommend this memoir enthusiastically.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Robert Edwards on April 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Making history come alive is a daunting task for any writer, but Lisa Alther achieves that goal with her usual grace and wit in Kinfolks, sweeping the reader along on her very own magical mystery tour as she explores her roots and the rich tapestry of Appalachia and its people. The very real characters encountered in this book are as varied and charming as are her fictional ones, and the historical details she incorporates in her personal odyssey are fascinating and provocative. And anyone who enjoys genealogy will be enthralled by the insights Alther has to offer. Kinfolks is laugh-out-loud hilarious, filled with anecdotes of eccentric folk and stories of childhood that will make you yearn for that enchanting time. Here's an opportunity to take a road trip with one of America's best storytellers. Don't miss the ride. I guarantee you'll love this book!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Alther's delve into her family's (though mostly her Virginian-born, Tennessee-bred, father's) genetic history. Along the way, she met up with crazy/interesting/possibly in-bred/definitely eccentric folk who made her journey, and ours, that much more interesting.

I read both Kinflicks and Original Sin back when they were published, but this is the first book by Alther I've read in, oh, maybe 30 years. I'd love to read her back-list, but much of it seems to be out-of-print. Maybe if this book, her first book of non-fiction, proves popular (and profitable)her back list works will be republished.

And, finally, it was so refreshing to read a memoir of someone who had a - reasonably - happy childhood.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Pond on April 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
An excellent read. With nostalgic, poignant and funny stories of her childhood, Alther brings us to her present understanding of who and where she belongs in the world.

I especially enjoyed the quirky interviews she had with people on her quest in the Appalachian Mountains for her six-fingered relatives. And seeing the varied results of the genetic testing makes me curious about my own family rumors of native American ancestors.

It's a twice read book for me. Kate
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bibsisis on May 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kingsport, TN native Lisa Alther's eagerly awaited first non-fiction book debuted in spring, most appropriately for a story of roots, rebirth, and re-growth. As she discovers her ancestry to be a mélange, so is her story beginning with amusing and sometimes painful memories of her childhood with which we can identify, her experiences as a writer, mother, and researcher for this most definitive study of the group called Melungeon which took ten years of her life as she traveled the South and several countries overseas in search of the truth of her origins, including a DNA test to confirm results she suspected.

Always humorous with a low-key, wry, droll wit, Alther traverses her family life with her amazing father's humorous stories and anecdotes, tempered by her equally amazing mother who kept all of them in check as both of them encouraged their large family toward excellence which all achieved with missteps along the way as most successful people have.

Alther digs deep and delivers much depth in Kinfolks, falling off the family tree, going places many people fear to tread. The cover is as intriguing as the book with main title in the many-faceted colors of mixed races as all of us are. A green road sign we've all seen says "The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors," and her name is on the cover inside a black and white state road sign, symbolic of both her birthplace and her travels, not only for research but the search for self.

She finds answers about her origins as well as who and why she is. Mysteries remain. In addition to her self-effacing tongue-in-cheek manner, some of the humorous interludes in her book are the interspersed signs on church bulletin boards she sees while driving around Kingsport and environs.
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