A daughter chronicles her journey to understand the complexities of silence, myth-making and taboo that have shaped her family’s history.
When Fanny Howe and Carl Senna wed in 1968, their interracial union was widely regarded in liberal circles as a symbol of the promise of their generation. The relationship, however, proved disastrous for both the couple and for their children. Novelist Senna (Symptomatic, 2004, etc.) portrays a home shaped by her parents’ abusive relationship and the legacy of their equally unhappy divorce. She provides harrowing details about growing up with an irresponsible, intermittently alcoholic father and a frequently impoverished single mother. At the heart of this personal history lies the author’s search for her roots—not her mother’s well-recorded descent from the founding families of New England, but her father’s multiracial Southern background and the evasions, half-truths and unspoken stories that defined it. In the course of unraveling the mystery of her father’s parentage and following the trail of his bloodlines, Senna squarely confronts the issues of race and ethnic identity in American history. Luminous prose carries along a narrative that might otherwise have failed to hold the reader’s attention. For all its revelations of buried family secrets, her memoir does not have a particularly strong story arc; on several occasions, for example, recollections are simply presented under the title “More fragments.” The result is a compendium of fascinating and perhaps deliberately unassimilated details, rather than a sustained narrative of satisfying self-discovery.
Quietly reflective and gorgeously written, though somewhat meandering.