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Caucasia: A Novel Hardcover – February 2, 1998
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Birdie and Cole are the daughters of a black father and a white mother, intellectuals and activists in the Civil Rights Movement in 1970s Boston. The sisters are so close that they have created a private language, yet to the outside world they can't be sisters: Birdie appears to be white, while Cole is dark enough to fit in with the other kids at the Afrocentric school they attend. For Birdie, Cole is the mirror in which she can see her own blackness. Then their parents' marriage falls apart. Their father's new black girlfriend won't even look at Birdie, while their mother gives her life over to the Movement: at night the sisters watch mysterious men arrive with bundles shaped like rifles. One night Birdie watches her father and his girlfriend drive away with Cole-they have gone to Brazil, she will later learn, where her father hopes for a racial equality he will never find in the States. The next morning-in the belief that the Feds are after them-Birdie and her mother leave everything behind: their house and possessions, their friends, and-most disturbing of all-their identity. Passing as the daughter and wife of a deceased Jewish professor, Birdie and her mother finally make their home in New Hampshire. Desperate to find Cole, yet afraid of betraying her mother and herself to some unknown danger, Birdie must learn to navigate the white world-so that when she sets off in search of her sister, she is ready for what she will find.
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When the girls' parents get into some trouble, the family splits apart. Their father and his new girlfriend take Cole with them to Brazil, and Birdie goes on the lam with their mother, living on the road for a few years before settling down in rural New Hampshire.
With her mother paranoid of the Feds, Birdie is forced to take on a new identity. From that point forward she is Jesse Goldman, and wears a Star of David around her neck to "pass" as Jewish instead of black. This allows her to fit in at her New Hampshire school, where the few black students are treated as pariahs.
But living this lie and denying her own identity take an inevitable toll on Birdie. Eventually, she runs away to find her father and sister.
Caucasia is a compelling and nuanced coming-of-age story about race, identity and family amid the backdrop of 1970s-1980s America. Birdie is a strong protagonist whose strength and vulnerability carry the narrative. It's always interesting to read stories like this one that help me see the world through an entirely different lens.
Kind of disappointing.
Barack Obama has addressed some of the complications--there is much more to be said.
I read a library copy for my book club, but ordered this for a neighbor, who has just completed her junior year of high school, whose father is white and mother is black (British). I have known her and her older sister since they were born. Both know the complexities of their mixed heritage. This is one book that doesn't gloss over that.
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In the book Caucasia by Danzy Senna the main character Birdie is a mulatto girl whose parents are civil rights activist.Read more