From Publishers Weekly
In this wistful yet bitter-toned memoir, Senna (Symptomatic
) relates her search for answers about her family and racial heritage, a complicated background that most surely informed first novel, Caucasia
. In her 30s, despite having launched a successful writing career and built a life of her own, Senna was curious about her black father's family history (her mother descended from Boston Brahmins). Senna travels South to trace her father's roots, particularly the mystery of his paternity; along the way she meets potential relatives, searches through records and photos and soaks in the atmosphere he knew as a child. Most of her efforts bear little direct fruit (though in the end some answers turn up thanks to DNA testing), but gradually they do help her to better understand her father—a writer and professor, and later a drunk and deadbeat who left Senna's mother and their children. Senna switches narrative vantage points frequently, offering fragments of the past and glimpses of the present. The result is a haunting, introspective meditation on race and family ties that tackles the tricky questions involved in constructing identity. (May)
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*Starred Review* When her parents married in 1968, they merged two complicated strains of American heritage: Boston blue blood traceable to the Mayflower and Southern African American with a cross strain of Mexican–Native American. Senna recalls growing up in a violent home until her parents divorced and she and her siblings were jockied between households, listening to complaints about the worst in each parent. She sided with her mother and found severe fault in her father’s alcoholism and neglect, while listening to his diatribes about race. As an adult, looking more white than black, she wrestled with her own complex feelings about race until she felt the need to critically examine the histories of both sides of her family. Traveling south with her father, Senna untangles long-held secrets—the brief orphanage of her father and his siblings, the complicated compromises made by her black grandmother, an accomplished musician forced to live a humble life. On her mother’s side, she found old wealth, some of it secured from slave trading, whittled down to more modest gentility but continued privilege. Starting her own family, Senna tackled the challenge of overcoming hatred of her father and an acceptance and appreciation of what he had given her. Senna, author of Caucasia and Symptomatic, offers a stunningly rendered personal heritage that mirrors the complexities of race, class, and ethnicity in the U.S. --Vanessa Bush