A mannered account of a biracial woman raised by a white family in West Virginia who was reunited joyfully with her African family.
Culberson and co-author Trivas present a tidy, bifurcated narrative. Culberson—whose birth mother was white and father black—narrates in the first person, telling of her adoption as an infant in 1977 by Jim and Judy Culberson, who happily raised the orphan with their own daughters in the predominantly white community of Morgantown. The other narrative thread is the fictionalized re-creation of the struggle for survival by Culberson’s real father, Joe Konia Kposowa, and extended family as they fled the violent insurgency that ripped apart Sierra Leone in the mid-’90s. The juxtaposition of the two narratives is deliberately jarring. While Culberson was being crowned Homecoming Queen, her family and other Mende people faced ambush, amputations—a favorite terror tactic of the rebels—and homelessness. As a girl growing up, Culberson was accused by other blacks of not being “black enough.” Gradually she grew more curious about her biological parents and found out that her now-dead mother, Lillian (“Penny”), had been working at a university cafeteria when she met Kposowa, the son of the “Paramount Chief” of his village. After Penny got pregnant, the couple decided to give the baby up for adoption, and Kposowa went back to Africa. Culberson’s wrenching coming-of-age tale ably chronicles her love and acceptance by both of her families, but the intermediary of the extra writer dilutes the emotional impact, giving the book a too-eager-to-please spin.
An inspiring but flawed autobiography.