Sunday, November 30, 2014


Caucasia is a novel by Danzy Senna who is the daughter of a black man and a white woman. The novel is about a woman, Birdie Lee, who is the daughter of a black man and a white woman.

It is a very good book and I recommend it.  Throughout I wondered if it was autobiographical. The character in the novel can pass for white, and photos of Ms. Senna similarly reveal that she can pass for white.  The father in the novel is an author and the mother a wealthy descendant of early settlers in Boston.  The author's real father is an author, and mother comes from a line of wealthy Brahmins. Ms. Senna's real parents separate.  The character's parents in the novel separate.  When I completed the book I read that in addition to this novel, the author has written an autobiography, so one imagines that while this novel may be based on her experiences, there are clear distinctions between it and the autobiography.

The novel is very well written.  A page turner.  We learn about Birdie's close relationship with her sister who is not white looking and the tensions that surface with classmates, her father's girlfriend, and even her parents to some extent because of the differences in their skin color.  At one point the "white" contingent of the family has to separate from the "black" contingent.  The reader follows the white contingent and discovers what it might be like to be black, look white, and be treated by racists as if you are white, privy to philistine jokes and slurs.

From the time of the separation, Birdie hopes to and tries to reunite with her sibling and father.  Much of the last section of the book is about her attempts to do so.  The plot in this part seems a bit unrealistic, like a just okay detective yarn.  Still, the story as a whole is a very good one.

When you have completed it you may have an even greater appreciation for how capricious is the construct of race. Consequently, it becomes even more clear how racism--this horrific blemish on our world which has spawned and continues to fuel unconscionable behaviors--is based on a foundation that has no foundation. Best line in the book has nothing to do with race however.  The daughter asks the mother if she loves her boyfriend as much as she loved her ex husband, the main character's dad.  The mother's response. "Someday you'll love like I loved your father, and you'll spend the rest of your life recovering."

Only real flaw I found in the book is that some of it deals with the late 60s revolutionary activity, yet the book is set in the late 70s.   Maybe there was still a lot of that going on in the late 70s and that fact has passed me by,

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