REPOSSESSING ERNESTINE by Marsha Hunt

REPOSSESSING ERNESTINE

A Granddaughter Uncovers the Secret History of Her American Family
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A troubling account of the search for roots in the racially and psychologically complex American South. Hunt, a novelist (Free, 1992, Joy, 1991) and actress (Hair), and, it must be noted in obeisance to the rules of American celebrity worship, the mother of Mick Jagger's first child, is an intelligent, responsible writer. She discovers that her family's deepest secret is an ``insane,'' long-institutionalized woman, Hunt's grandmother, still alive in a nursing home in Memphis. Hunt flies from her home in France to meet Ernestine, a tiny woman over 90, usually silent, withdrawn, perhaps unreachable. Ernestine is living in a small private nursing home in substandard conditions, her upkeep paid for by her dead husband's mistress. A host of disturbing questions about Ernestine's history, and Hunt's family, unfold. Was Ernestine, who has been institutionalized since the 1920s, ever really insane? Or did she just suffer from a combination of postpartum depression and her husband's wish to get her out of the way? Hunt stresses the role of color in this story. Ernestine was a blond, blue-eyed black woman born to a dark mother who was ambivalent about her daughter's appearance. Hunt's research takes her all the way back to the antebellum South and up to the life and tragic death of her father, Ernestine's son, a Harvard- educated psychiatrist. While much of what Hunt uncovers could only be seen as a tragedy, the conclusion does offer a faint note of triumph: Ernestine gains a family of sorts. And Hunt, who recovers and brings to light so much family history, is someone we are glad to come to know, a kind of Everywoman. Repossessing Ernestine reads at times like a cross between a confessional article in a woman's magazine and a detective novel. It's not literature, but it is honest, energetic, and profoundly evocative of the deep, deep psychological imprint of the question of color in the South. (b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017443-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996