Drop: My Father's Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets
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Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 9, 2008)
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.5 inches
Book Reviewed by Thumper
I had not heard of One Drop: My Father's Hidden
Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard when it was
initially published. I stumbled across the book when I happened to go to a
shopping mall here in Indianapolis that I do not usually frequent. I noticed
that it had a huge Barnes and Noble Bookstore. I'm sure there was unbridle
lust in my eyes when I saw the store. By the time I crossed the store's
threshold, I made a beeline for the clearance section. I learned a long time
ago, before I got my reviewer gig that all hardcover books will hit the
clearance section and go on sale at a deep discounted price. I'll admit it,
I'm cheap. Some hard covers get there faster than others, but they all get
to the clearance section eventually. As I'm bending over reading titles,
moving books in all directions, performing a balancing act with the books
that I'm thinking about buying holding them in one hand, I spot
One Drop. I read the book summary on the
cover flap. My interest was piqued. As I'm waiting for my friend Terry to
get off the phone and buy his own books, I found a comfortable chair in the
bookstore (whoever thought of putting big soft comfortable chairs in
bookstores should be nominated for sainthood) and started reading the book.
I was hooked. One Drop is infectious and
completely captivating. I did not put the book down until I had finished,
which is saying a lot because it's a thick book, approximately 500 pages. I
buried my head in its pages and did not come up for air until I completed
One Drop is a memoir of a family. Anatole Broyard, author of "Kafka was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir" and New York Times book reviewer, kept a secret from his colleagues and his children, Anatole Broyard was black. Anatole Broyard was born in a respected Creole family from New Orleans. When his parents moved the family from New Orleans to New York City, his light skined parents began passing as white in order to gain employment to support the family. When Anatole entered college, he began passing as well. Anatole Broyard lived the rest of his life as a white man.
A few months before losing his battle with cancer, his children Todd and Bliss are told that their father is black. After his death, the author Broyard begins a long search for her newly discovered black family and for her father. Broyard then called into question her own history and perspective on race. Broyard grapples with discovering her family and her place in it. Her journey will lead her to examining race from a new perspective, discovering sides to her father she did not know existed, and confronting some harsh realities about herself.
I have to admit that I got more out of this book than I first imagined. Broyard is a good, solid writer, and a wonderful storyteller. There are times when I watched Broyard take herself to task. In order to get to the truth, turn her inside out with an objective eye. I have to give it to her, she went places that I would not have gone, never mind, subjected myself to in public. By Broyard willingness to open herself to examination, it triggered my own look at race, in that it is not all cut and dry.
Along with Broyard discovery about the family she did not know she had, she covered a few subject of American history: the history of New Orleans; the history and social structure of New Orleans's Creole people; and how the city and Creoles role in the Civil War and Reconstruction of the south. Broyard struck the right tone in storytelling and accuracy to make these chapters irresistible. I am not a Civil War buff. I cannot say that I am remotely interested in it. In Broyard's capable hands, I was swept away by the Civil War chapters. Broyard is the first author I have read that explained the origin and history of the Creole people in a way that I understood it. I loved it! Broyard has a voice that is made for writing history, history that is highly readable and accessible.
When I first began One Drop, I, at first, thought this was simply more of the old case of the "tragic mulatto". My humorous cynicism slowly turned to one of sadness for Anatole Broyard. The tragic part isn't that Broyard turned his back on being black, it's that he had to live with saying he was white when possibly he didn't feel white. It is not fair that a person should have to carry the weight of a lie about your basic self in order to live a life without facing injustice day after day after day. Then my thoughts turned to those whose skin were light enough to pass but did not. I needed to touch the other side of the coin to get some sort of balance. I gave it much thought before I stumbled on one such person, my great grandmother, June. My great grandmother was a pistol! She chewed snuff, could out cuss any of today's rappers and did not believe in banks so money was stashed all over her house: $200 under the telephone, $500 in a chest of drawers, $50 where the spoons and forks were. Grandma June could have easily passed for a white woman anytime she felt the need to, but she didn't. My great grandmother was in the same place as Broyard and his family except her and her sister, my great grand aunt Quilla, did not pass over. If my great grandmother had, I would not be here. What's the difference between my great grandmother June and Anatole Broyard? Why did one cross the line while the other did not? Could it be that being black ain't for the weak hearted or the simple minded? Was it a strength Anatole Broyard did not possess?
One Drop is a big book. It is also thought provoking and a delightfully knowledgeable read. It is not often that I read a non-fiction book and don't look at the page number as I'm reading. Broyard has an appealing voice, custom made for storytelling. She made history come alive. I feel somewhat smarter because I read One Drop.