Saturday, December 29, 2012
I am fully aware of the racial tensions and troubles and prejudices that continue to this day in all towns and cities. However, I was unaware of the particular tensions of Boston in the 70s. The Irish, formerly prejudiced against themselves have turned on the black population. The entire world was exploding. This book covers a rowdy period of time in race and politics. Underground activities, subversive behavior, all this creates the setting for Danzy Senna's thoughtful Caucasia.
Add on top of that is a story about two young sisters, separated on the basis of race. Each child goes with the parent of the "matching" race; the parent that looks most like them. The story is told from the perspective from the youngest girl, Birdie Lee, later living under the name Jesse Goldman and under the guise of being a Jewish girl. Birdie's sister, Cole goes off with their father to Brazil, in his deluded hopes to find an interracial paradise.
Jesse and her mother go on the run to escape the Feds for unspecified crimes. Jesse, though white on the outside, is forced to pretend she is 100% white. She feels she is cheating her true self. How do you pretend? Do you pretend? How much of who we are is skin color? This novel is mostly about skin color. But the issues and conundrums and personal struggles are universal. How do we relate to others? How do we connect with family? Can we forgive our parents for decisions they make? Who are we and what makes us who we are?
Rich in setting, deep in character, Caucasia was a pleasant surprise. One that would make an excellent book club read. It is fascinating and brings up so many important issues. Issues that are, unfortunately, not diminished, despite it being 40+ years beyond 1970.