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The Professor's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – January 13, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review.  A thoughtful, satisfying meditation on race and family history, Raboteau's novel is that rare debut by a young author that stands out not for its stylistic swagger or precocity, but for its simple grace and absolute wisdom. The title character, Emma Boudreaux, and her "twin" brother, Bernie, are the products of an interracial marriage and an unconventional household. But while Bernie embraces his blackness, Emma is less sure about who she is; still, she chooses to defer to her brother and their shared "skin." As an adolescent she only vaguely grasps the mysterious legacy of her black father, who went from an impoverished, segregated Mississippi childhood-his own father having been publicly lynched-to an esteemed academic career at Princeton University. That her father is often absent from family life only deepens Emma's connection with her brother. But when Bernie falls into a coma after a freak accident, Emma, now a freshman at Yale, is forced to reevaluate her identity. With shifting points of view, the novel weaves together unexpected fragments, like a paper Emma "wrote" for a post-colonial African novel class and her comatose brother's lucid dreams. Drawing from the traditions of African storytelling, the novel maps a mythically rich terrain without ever leaving the confines of American realism. Raboteau, who has already won awards for her fiction, has an assured voice that illuminates pain as acutely as love, and this book flaunts her exceptional storytelling talents.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–In this powerful and unflinchingly stark story, Emma Boudreaux often reaches into the past to try to understand the present. Her father is black and her mother is white, and the teen is trying to find her place in a world in which she feels like an outsider. Her brother, Bernie, strong and perfect and comfortable with his blackness, is her anchor, her compass. When he has a freak accident and becomes a vegetable, Emma feels abandoned and emotionally isolated. Left alone to discover who she is, she explores the past, especially her father's, Princeton professor Bernard Boudreaux. His own narrative reveals grim secrets and a twisted, tortured journey through family history to the present. At its darkest and most painful is the lynching of his father before he was born. It will take all of Emma's strength and resolve to survive, and to escape the shadowy and painful legacies that ensnared her father and brother. Raboteau's writing is vivid, compelling, and fearless as she tackles themes of racial violence, anger, family secrets, and self-discovery. The author changes perspective several times, from Emma to her father and even to Bernie in his comatose state, showing how each character is shaped by time and history. Readers will enjoy the history woven into the superb storytelling as Raboteau skillfully interweaves past and present events to reveal that love does somehow survive.–Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (February 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805075062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805075069
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,873,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Emily Raboteau (b. 1976) is the author of a novel, The Professor's Daughter, and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion, winner of a 2014 American Book Award. Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The New York Times, Tin House, Salon, McSweeney's, The Guardian, Guernica, The Believer and elsewhere. Honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony. An avid world traveler, Raboteau resides in New York City where she teaches creative writing at City College, in Harlem.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A glittering debut from a young author who is definitely going places. Raboteau molds her characters with a delicate, cunning hand. I had the sense that she took great care in polishing the book because the story seemed to flow effortlessly, almost as if Emma, Bernie, and others were propelling themselves.

Raboteau's skill is most striking in small descriptions, in details, where her style is poignant, sometimes disarmingly brilliant. If you haven't read "Kavita Through Glass" in The Best American Short Stories 2003, you're missing out. There, too, Raboteau makes the most out of subtlety and understatement, speaking with a quiet voice that somehow resounds.
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By a reader on September 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book isn't bad, but it's written in a choppy style that makes it hard to follow the "story" and feel close to the characters. Emma Boudreaux seemed like a ghost rather than a full-fledged person. Also, I felt that I was told about her close relationship to her brother rather than allowed to experience it firsthand. I agree with the reviewer who said this reads like a journal or "emotional toilet" of some kind. That said, I do believe Emily Raboteau is a talented writer. I'll certainly read future works by her.
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Format: Hardcover
The Professor's Daughter is Emma Boudreaux, a young woman who is struggling with the loss of her older "spiritual twin" brother, Bernie (Bernard Boudreaux III), who dies after a brief coma following a freak accident. Emma has long been a victim of physical and emotional abandonment from her father, the world renowned Yale professor, Bernard Boudreaux II, but her brother's death seems to exacerbate her "condition" and pushes her over the edge.

Emma's "condition" is that of self-doubt originally stemming from her ethnicity (her father is African American, her mother Caucasian) and the struggles of trying to fit into a world that is largely black or white. She leans heavily on her brother as her strength during the early childhood years when she is taunted by other children. She becomes somewhat of a recluse, excelling academically while learning to "disappear" or become "invisible" in order to avoid the negative attention her physical appearance seems to attract. But this is not merely a tale of the tragic mulatto - it goes deeper - and Raboteau's beckoning style sets the tone perfectly.

There's an expression, "the fruit does not fall far from the tree," and although Emma was somewhat of an enigma, I found the professor's character more intriguing and complex. Within him lies inner struggles and conflict that were seemingly inherited by his son with residual turmoil passed to Emma. The professor is a brilliant man with violent and poor roots originating in the Mississippi Delta. He is very secretive and guarded about his family history. It is in his recollections that we learn he was orphaned at an early age by a traumatic event that led his mother to madness and his father to an untimely death.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book riveting, from the first page to the last. Ms. Raboteau's writing is deft, assured, and daring. I was transported throughout the reading and willingly went anywhere the prose took me--and it took me many places (from a train wreck to a lynching to a boarding school to Ethiopia to the bedside of a formerly vital loved one who has become a "vegetable" to a flying dream state and more). Really, the writing just sings and the themes of race and belonging and identity are as timely as they are timeless. A wonderful, wonderful book.
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Format: Hardcover
Emily Raboteau wrote a good story in Callaloo that I remember being sort of the same storyline as this, three of four years ago, and at the time I wrote down her name as a writer to watch out for. Here we get the whole nine yards. The novel has a sort of Willa Cather flavor to its title (remember THE PROFESSOR'S HOUSE?), and Raboteau's combination of delicacy and broad strokes do call to mind a young Willa Cather. But other bodies of writing are part of Raboteau's project too. I think everyone who reads this marvelous novel will feel, like the blind man and the elephant, that she has grasped at least a good chunk of social and moral America that has never before been adequately described or taxonomized. "The Professor's Daughter" sounds like a bookish title too, and this isn't that imaginary book, but a novel of raw power like Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN or Richard Wright's THE LONG DREAM.

It is rather like Terms of Endearment written on a bigger scale, but with the same imaginative sympathy that Larry McMurtry brought to his suffering mother and daughter. Here Emma (even the same name as the character Debra Winger played in the film version of Terms) isn't the one in the hospital, no, here it is her brother Bernard, the brother she has idealized for so long as the strong one, the tentpole in the family, now in a coma, a helpless mass of silent body parts. From this deracinated body she must exercise all her powers of analysis to determine what happened to her brother, what happened to her family, and what happened to white and black people over the whole troubled course of American history.

The storyline travels in jumps through time, back into the past and then abruptly, into the present while Emma cogitates. Strange fragments of dreams take precedence from page to page over the ordinary privilege of narrative. And we get a fair amount about the Negro Leagues too, so you might want to brush up on Ken Burns' BASEBALL video.
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