CLAIMING KIN by Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs


Confronting the History of an African-American Family
Email this review


Short, lyrical segments record the author’s attempts to discover her family’s history after the death of her father.

Children’s author Scruggs (Jump, Rope, Magic, 2000; Journalism/Ohio Wesleyan Univ.) was 15 when her father died in 1980 of lung cancer. She had lost not only a beloved parent but also a priceless resource, she writes: “His death left me without his voice, his words, without the story of his life.” In an investigation that led from relative to relative, from archive to archive, Scruggs attempted to recover the names and stories of people whose lives were shrouded in the wordless history of slavery and Reconstruction. The author grew up in Nashville, and we hear some about her childhood and her education. (She doesn’t exactly come across as modest as she declares herself a “certified genius” and writes about her superior record as a student.) After a B.A. from Chicago and a Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics from Brown, she decided an academic life was not for her and segued into journalism, where she has remained. At first in desultory fashion and then more systematically, Scruggs began interviewing family members and examining 19th-century property records, where she found the names of her ancestors. Soon, she was even consulting supernatural sources, interpreting dreams and consulting with experts in Nigerian deities and in the Spiritual Baptist movement. She found evidence of some extramarital hanky-panky a generation or so back and discovered the interracial nature of her history, meeting the white family whose ancestors once owned hers and gave it the Scruggs name. At the close, she realizes that all names, including her own, will eventually disappear into the fog of time. Divided into 20 chapters and 2 epilogues, her brief narrative is mostly non-linear, structured by emotion and memory rather than time; readers must relax and float on the subtle currents of her prose.

A moving and engaging reminder that our stories define us.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26135-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2001


NonfictionLOST IN LANGUAGE AND SOUND by Ntozake Shange
by Ntozake Shange