OREO by Fran Ross
Kirkus Star


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A biracial girl brought up by her black grandparents sets off on a quest to find her long-lost Jewish father in Ross’ brilliant and biting satire.

Helen "Honeychile" Clark and Samuel Schwartz met, married (over the mutual disapproval of their parents), and divorced before their daughter Oreo’s second birthday. With Helen, a pianist, away on perpetual tour and Samuel generally absent, Oreo (real name: Christine) and her brother, Jimmie C. (real name: Moishe), are raised by their maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. But while Oreo’s father has disappeared almost entirely from his daughter’s life (“he’s a schmuck,” Helen explains, when Oreo asks), he’s left behind one thing: a note, delivered to Helen and intended for the future Christine. When she “is old enough to decipher the clues written on this piece of paper,” he says, “send her to me and I will reveal to her the secret of her birth.” And so, after a precocious childhood, during which she's steeped in language—Yiddish from her grandfather (a committed anti-Semite, his business is selling outrageously overpriced mail-order schlock to Jews); English from her tutor, a “renowned linguist and blood donor”; and “Louise-ese,” the distinct dialect of her grandmother, to name a few—Oreo leaves home, lunch packed, to embark upon her mission: find her father, learn the secret. Transforming the myth of Theseus and the Labyrinth into a feminist picaresque, Ross sends Oreo into the heart of New York City, where, in a series of absurd, unsettling, and hilarious encounters—no one is safe from Ross’ razor-sharp deconstruction—she inches ever closer to her own origin story. Oreo’s identity is always in flux, as she performs various personas to suit her situations, switching between registers with superhuman skill. First published in 1974 and now reissued in paperback, Ross’ novel, with its Joycean language games and keen social critique, is as playful as it is profound.

Criminally overlooked. A knockout.

Pub Date: July 7th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2322-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015


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