Monday, October 22, 2012

Multi-Racial Read #8: Caucasia

I am reading multi-racial books as part of my research for my work-in-progress, Half-Truths. If you are interested in reading the previous posts, you can search this blog under "multi-racial" (upper top left corner)

When a upper-middle class white woman marries a black academic activist in Boston in the 1970's, there are bound to be problems that the two of them had not anticipated. Their two daughters are extremely close, despite the fact that the oldest (Cole) is dark like her father and the youngest (Birdie Lee) can pass as white. Both are raised to think of themselves as black, but predictably, Cole is more accepted within the black community and Birdie, much to her consternation, is favored by her rich maternal grandmother. 

When their parents split up, Birdie goes with her mother who takes on a fabricated Jewish name and history. Birdie (now re-named  "Jesse Goldman") continues to struggle with her racial and personal identity. As a result of her radical political affiliations, Birdie's mother is on the run always expecting that the FBI is going to find her out. Using their false identities, the two settle down in a small town in New Hampshire. This struggle to understand if her mother truly is wanted by the police, adds to Birdie's alienation and her desire to return to her Boston roots to find her father and sister.

Eventually, Birdie leaves New Hampshire and runs away to Boston. Here is a snippet which eloquently shows the struggles she faced:

"The name Jesse had been a lie but as I walked home that day, I wasn't quite sure the girl Jesse had been such a lie....Maybe I had actually become Jesse, and it was this girl, this Birdie Lee who haunted these streets, searching for ghosts, who was the lie....I missed the soft country earth and the dingy little town I had come to think of as my own. The missing scared me. It made feel a little contaminated. I wondered if whiteness were contagious. If it were, then surely I had caught it. I imagined this 'condition' affected the way I walked, talked, dressed, danced, and at its most advanced stage, the way I looked at the world and at other people." (p. 280)

As she looks upon a younger bi-racial child who is also living without her father, Birdie fantasizes her own perfect (yet unobtainable) future: "Maybe it would be easier for her. Maybe her father and her mother would share her between them and she would become the perfect blend of two rich cultures, moving effortlessly between the two worlds." (p. 287)

Although Birdie Lee, is a teenager, in my mind, this is not a book for young adults. The strength of this book is how the author, Danzy Senna, honestly exposes (issues) of race, prejudice, and identity.  As a Christian, I think the weakness of this book is its abundance of obscenities and frank approval of outside of marriage sexual encounters. 

That being said, Caucasia is a powerful story to help adults further understand the experiences and confused emotions of a bi-racial child. 


Linda A. said...

I admire the lengths you go to to research and understand the period and the conflict characters faced.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. The more I research, the more I realize I need to know! It's sort of an addiction!

Young Authors Program said...

I read this book like ten years ago Carol, and I still remember how much of a good read it was!

Two Nature Picture Books and Two Giveaways!

Congratulations to Jan Brent for winning the ARC of Jo Hackl's debut novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE. ******** NATURE'S...