Synopses & Reviews
Two months before he died of cancer, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown son and daughter to his side, intending to reveal a secret he'd kept all their lives and most of his own: he was black. Born in the French Quarter in 1920, Anatole began to conceal his racial identity after the family moved from New Orleans to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and his parents resorted to "passing" in order to get work. From his bohemian days in the cafÃ©s of Greenwich Village in the 1940s to his ascension in the ranks of the literary elite, he continued to maintain the faÃ§ade.
Serving as a daily book critic for the New York Times for more than a decade, and as a columnist and editor at the New York Times Book Review for several years after that, Anatole was an influential voice in American culture. To his children he was a charming and attentive father who had strived to raise his family in the lush enclaves of Connecticut and Martha's Vineyard, providing an upbringing far removed from his own childhood. But even as he lay dying, the truth was too difficult for him to admit, and it was finally their mother who told Bliss and Todd that their sheltered New England childhood had come at a price.
In her remarkable memoir, Bliss Broyard examines her father's choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. Seeking out unknown relatives in New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, she uncovers the 250-year history of her family in America, and chronicles her own evolution from privileged Wasp to a woman of mixed-race ancestry. The result is a beautifully crafted and touching portrait of her father, and a provocative examination of the profound consequences of racial identity.
"For Broyard, who was 'raised as white in Connecticut,' the discovery that her father, the writer and critic Anatole Broyard, 'wasn't exactly white' raised the question of 'how black I was' a question that set her in search of the history of 'the most well-known defector from the black race in the latter half of the twentieth century.' In the first section, Broyard weaves her privileged childhood together with later travels to New Orleans (her father's birthplace) and Los Angeles (where there is a determinedly white set of Broyards as well as a determinedly black set). Part two extends from the first Broyard, a Frenchman arriving in mid-18th century Louisiana territory, to six-year-old Anatole's 1927 arrival in Brooklyn. The last section is devoted to Anatole's life. Broyard's 'identity quest' takes her on an odyssey through social, military, legal, Louisiana and general American history, as well as U.S. race relations and her family DNA, introducing innumerable relatives, classmates, friends and employers, and making for a rather overstuffed account. Fortunately, she's got an ear for dialogue, an eye for place and a storyteller's pacing. But the most compelling element is her ambivalent tenor: 'Was my father's choice rooted in self-preservation or in self-hatred?... Was he a hero or a cad?' Part eulogy, part apologia, the answer is indirect: 'But he was my dad and we loved each other.' (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The expansive narrative is in need of pruning. Still, this uniquely American story of race and ambition is of surpassing importance." Kirkus Reviews
"This is not, thankfully, a book about a privileged white girl trying to decide if she should call herself black....Most poignant are her stories of the fallout her father's choice had on the black family he left behind." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"[A] fascinating, insightful book." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Unlike a large social history, Bliss Broyard's story of cousins and friends and generations and migrations, from South to North, from black to white and back again, plays out at a level of personal detail that defies stereotype in illuminating ways, and is occasionally wrenching." Chicago Tribune
A father's stunning secret sparks a life-transforming journey, in this story of race, identity, and the American dream. Broyard tries to make sense of her father's choices and the impact of his revelation on her own life. 50 b&w photos.
Ever since renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard's own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn
and began to "pass" in order to get work, he had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York
literary elite, he maintained the façade. Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York
and New Orleans
, and considers the profound consequences of racial identity. With unsparing candor and nuanced insight, Broyard chronicles her evolution from sheltered WASP to a woman of mixed race ancestry.
About the Author
Bliss Broyard is the author of the collection of stories My Father, Dancing, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her fiction and essays have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and The Art of the Essay, and have appeared in Grand Street, Ploughshares, the New York Times, Elle, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.