Caucasia: A Novel

Caucasia: A Novel

4.6 29
by Danzy Senna
     
 

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In Caucasia—Danzy Senna's extraordinary debut novel and national bestseller—Birdie and Cole are the daughters of a black father and a white mother, intellectuals and activists in the Civil Rights Movement in 1970s Boston. The sisters are so close that they have created a private language, yet to the outside world they can't be sisters:

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Overview

In Caucasia—Danzy Senna's extraordinary debut novel and national bestseller—Birdie and Cole are the daughters of a black father and a white mother, intellectuals and activists in the Civil Rights Movement in 1970s Boston. The sisters are so close that they have created a private language, yet to the outside world they can't be sisters: Birdie appears to be white, while Cole is dark enough to fit in with the other kids at the Afrocentric school they attend. For Birdie, Cole is the mirror in which she can see her own blackness.

Then their parents' marriage falls apart. Their father's new black girlfriend won't even look at Birdie, while their mother gives her life over to the Movement: at night the sisters watch mysterious men arrive with bundles shaped like rifles.

One night Birdie watches her father and his girlfriend drive away with Cole—they have gone to Brazil, she will later learn, where her father hopes for a racial equality he will never find in the States. The next morning—in the belief that the Feds are after them—Birdie and her mother leave everything behind: their house and possessions, their friends, and—most disturbing of all—their identity. Passing as the daughter and wife of a deceased Jewish professor, Birdie and her mother finally make their home in New Hampshire. Desperate to find Cole, yet afraid of betraying her mother and herself to some unknown danger, Birdie must learn to navigate the white world—so that when she sets off in search of her sister, she is ready for what she will find. At once a powerful coming-of-age story and a groundbreaking work on identity and race in America, "Caucasia deserves to be read all over" (Glamour).

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Haunting and deeply intelligent.
People Magazine
...[A]bsorbing, affecting...
Elizabeth Schmidt
Superbly illustrates the emotional toll that politics and race take on one especially gutsy young girl's development.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in 1970s Boston, this impressively assured debut avoids the usual extremes in its depiction of racial tension. As children, Birdie and her sister, Cole, create their own secret language--Elemeno--to ward off the growing tension between their black father and their white mother. Finally, Mom and Dad split up one time too many, and no amount of Al Green records, Chinese noodles and slow dancing can bring them back together. Cole, whose complexion is darker than her sister's, gets caught up in her new, black nationalist Nkrumah School in Roxbury and in her father's new life with a black girlfriend. Birdie, pale enough to be mistaken for white, stays close to Mom, mourning her estrangement from Dad and especially Coleher mirror, protector and secret sharer. After her father and Cole move to Brazil and the feds start to investigate her mother's mysterious political activities, Birdie and her mother go underground, posing as the wife and daughter of sympathetic professor David Goldman. Senna's observations about the racial divide in America are often fierce but always complex and humane. If the story has didactic overtones, Senna's shaping of '70s detail and convincing development of her appealing protagonists more than justify its message.
Library Journal
Senna's first novel explores life in the middle of America's racial chasm through the eyes of a biracial girl who must struggle for acceptance from blacks and whites alike. Birdie and Cole are the daughters of a white mother and an African American father whose marriage is disintegrating. When their activist mother must flee from the police, the girls are split between their parents: Cole goes with her father because she looks black, Birdie with her mother because she could pass for white. Living in a small town and forced to keep her family, her past, and her race a secret, Birdie spies upon racism in all its forms, from the overt comments of the town locals to the hypocrisy of the wealthy liberals. Senna combines a powerful coming-of-age tale with a young girl's search for identity and family amid a sea of racial stereotypes and cultural ideas of beauty. -- Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
School Library Journal
The time is the 1970s, the place is Boston, and the story is of a biracial marriage and the two little girls born of it. Cole, the first child, preferred by both parents, is beautifully black like her father. Birdie, the narrator, is light enough to pass as white. The wife is a "bleeding heart liberal" who has involved herself in civil rights causes against the wishes of her intellectual husband. Finally, the marriage ruptures. A general breakdown ensues when a gun-running political activity precipitates the need for the family to disappear. Cole is taken off to Brazil with her father to begin a new life in a black environment more open to people of color. Birdie is caught up in a series of wrenching deprivals when her mother insists on the need to go underground. There is a change of location, name, appearance, and in Birdie's case, a change of race; she is to pass as white. Money shortages, a complete lack of stability, the loss of a sister almost a twin, a feeling of displacement, the strains of adjustment, no sense of community or relationship, and the growing suspicion that her mother is psychotic make for disturbing adolescent years. Throughout, Birdie keeps alive her need to connect with her father and sister, and faces the knowledge that the liability of her sister's blackness to her mother and her own unwelcome whiteness to her father has brought the family to this sorry situation. It is her courage, her optimism, and her inherent loyalty that brings about a satisfying reunion for the sisters.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, Virginia
The New York Times
Haunting and deeply intelligent.
The Washington Post
Exquisite....Attention must be paid....The final chapters of the book are as taut and fast-paced as a thriller.
Glamour
Extraordinary....A cross between Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here and James McBride's The Color of Water; this story of a young girl's struggle -- to find her family, her roots, her identity -- transcends race even while examining it. A compelling look at being black and being white.
Katherine Sojourner
A tender and moving novel about two sisters, daughters of a Black father and a white mother, who are separated by their parents' failed marriage. Birdie, who appears to be white, is the narrator of this story about about being whisked away into a new life, only to reach desperately back into time to find her sister and fully embrace her heritage. The novel raises marevelous questions about identity.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781573227162
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/28/1999
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
118,281
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.86(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Thomas Keneally
A superb new writer...A fresh and robust American voice.
From the Publisher
"Lucid and magnificent."—James McBride, author of The Color of Water"The visual conundrums woven through Danzy Senna’s remarkable first novel [will] cling to your memory. There's Birdie, who takes after her mother's white, New England side of the family—light skin, straight hair. There's her big sister, Cole, who takes after her father, a radical black intellectual. It's the early seventies, and black-power politics divide their parents, who divide the sisters; Cole disappears with their father, and Birdie goes underground with their mother...Senna tells this coming-of-age tale with impressive beauty and power."—Newsweek"[An] absorbing debut novel...Senna superbly illustrates the emotional toll that politics and race take on one especially gutsy young girl's development as she makes her way through the parallel limbos between black and white and between girl and young woman...Senna gives new meaning to the twin universal desires for a lost childhood and a new adult self by recounting Birdie's struggle to become someone when she can look and act like anyone."—The New York Times Book Review”Extraordinary...A cross between Mona Simpson’s Anywhere But Here and James McBride’s The Color of Water, this story of a young girl’s struggle—to find her family, her roots, her identity—transcends race even while examining it. A compelling look at being black and being white, Caucasia deserves to be read all over.”—Glamour"Brilliant...a finely nuanced story that explores the matter of race through the eyes and heart of another white black girl."—Ms.”Senna brings an accomplished voice to this vivid coming-of-age tale, offering images sweet and sorrowful of a child caught on the fault line between races.”—USA Today

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