2008: 200. One Drop

“Two months before my father died of prostate cancer, I learned about a secret, but I had always sensed there was something about my family, or even many things, that I didn’t know.”

One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life - A Story of Race and Family Secrets, Bliss Broyard

This is a extremely interesting memoir.  The author learned, at the age of about twenty-one, as her father was dying of cancer, that he was an African American, who had been passing for white for most of his adult life.  That she had an entire other side of her family she had basically never met (including relatively famous Civil Rights activists).  Her father was a Creole, whose parents had come up from Louisiana to New York before the Second World War, and he had decided, when in college that he no longer wanted to be black.  And because he was barely “black” at all (and this is one of the issues delved into at great length in the book - what does it mean to be “black” when you are lighter skinned than many “whites”?), he turned away from his family (especially his one sister who couldn’t pass) and became a famous literary critic  and, for a while, editor of the New York Times book review.  And the book is about how his daughter came to learn this information, and try to process it and understand it, including facing her own racism and uncomfortableness trying to feel “black” having been “white” her whole life, as well as getting to know the other parts of her family - those who didn’t pass and those who did, as well as learning about her family’s history of intermarriage in New Orleans (including one “white” member who decided to pass as “black”).   But the book is particularly interesting because as much as Bliss had no idea about her family, many other people knew. It was sort of an open secret in the literary world that Anatole was black - but it was thought impolite to discuss, or perhaps even unimportant.  It was so interesting to me how it was not such a big deal and was such a huge important thing at the same time.  An absolutely fascinating topic, with a lot to chew on.  My one complaint would be that while this is a pretty good book, Bliss is not quite up to the task of making it a phenomenal book - she is a good writer, and its quite a read, but I imagine someone like, say Daniel Mendelsohn writing at book like this (or, I don’t know, Barack Obama) , and I think it could be the book - something for the ages.  But it is Bliss’s story and she tells it well, and its a darn fine read - unfair to complain because it’s not a phenomenal one.

Date/Place Completed: 12/7/08; D.C.

Categories: Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017