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Caucasia: A Novel Paperback – February 1, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A young girl learns some difficult lessons in Danzy Senna's debut novel Caucasia. Growing up in a biracial family in 1970s Boston, Birdie has seen her family disintegrate due to the increasing racial tensions. Her father and older sister move to Brazil, where they hope to find true racial equality, while Birdie and her mother drift through the country, eventually adopting new identities (Sheila and Jesse Goldman) and settling in a small New Hampshire town.

Birdie/Jesse tries to find her niche in this new world of eye shadow and gossip and boys, but she also wants to remain true to herself and find a common ground between her white and black heritage. She sets out to find her sister and reconnect with that part of her that has been lost for so long; the search takes her far from the settled, safe life she had in New Hampshire to a far more ambiguous, and unsettled, existence, one in which her own definitions of herself become muddled, and her search for her sister leads ultimately to a search for her own true identity. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-The time is the 1970s, the place is Boston, and the story is of a biracial marriage and the two little girls born of it. Cole, the first child, preferred by both parents, is beautifully black like her father. Birdie, the narrator, is light enough to pass as white. The wife is a "bleeding heart liberal" who has involved herself in civil rights causes against the wishes of her intellectual husband. Finally, the marriage ruptures. A general breakdown ensues when a gun-running political activity precipitates the need for the family to disappear. Cole is taken off to Brazil with her father to begin a new life in a black environment more open to people of color. Birdie is caught up in a series of wrenching deprivals when her mother insists on the need to go underground. There is a change of location, name, appearance, and in Birdie's case, a change of race; she is to pass as white. Money shortages, a complete lack of stability, the loss of a sister almost a twin, a feeling of displacement, the strains of adjustment, no sense of community or relationship, and the growing suspicion that her mother is psychotic make for disturbing adolescent years. Throughout, Birdie keeps alive her need to connect with her father and sister, and faces the knowledge that the liability of her sister's blackness to her mother and her own unwelcome whiteness to her father has brought the family to this sorry situation. It is her courage, her optimism, and her inherent loyalty that brings about a satisfying reunion for the sisters.
Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573227161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573227162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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