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It's 1963, and Beryl Rosinsky's father is a blacklisted architect, her mother a civil rights activist who is away for weeks at a time demonstrating against racism in the South. Beryl, preoccupied with college plans, can't stay far enough away from her mother's radical beliefs. Leah Rosinsky wants Beryl to pick a school near their home in Washington D.C., but then great-grandmother Bubby dies while visiting the family, and Beryl, feeling irrationally responsible, sinks into depression. To cheer her up, father and grandmother urge her to attend the University of North Carolina, thinking that a change of scene will be beneficial. There, Beryl discovers an unfamiliar world: sororities, stern housemothers, a roommate who's the blondest girl she's ever met, another who spends hours listening to "Louie Louie." Beryl learns to tease her hair and wear Weejuns, but she doesn't quite fit in with this bunch. She spends most of her time with the moody David Lazar, who's bitter about his paralyzed leg. David hangs around the fringes of a liberal crowd, and in their company Beryl becomes more aware of Chapel Hill's racial politics. She grows curious about the picketers in front of Packard's, with its whites-only lunch counter; she notices that Emily, the dorm's only black student, is quietly excluded; she introduces the dorm to bagels and noodle pudding and comes to appreciate her Jewish heritage. But it's not until a roommate is pressured into marriage that Beryl's own activism blossoms and she and her mother edge toward rapprochement.
The writing is often pedestrian, the emotional core of the mother-daughter relationship thinly sketched. But Bache's warm humor and her zest for period detail make for an engrossing portrait of an era.
Posted June 11, 2011
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