The Professor's Daughter

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A daughter's future and her father's past converge in this explosive first novel exploring identity, assimilation, and the legacy of race

"My father is black and my mother is white and my brother is a vegetable." When Emma Boudreaux's older brother, Bernie, winds up in a coma after a freak accident, it's as if she loses a part of herself. All their lives, he has served as her compass, her stronger, better half: Bernie was brilliant when Emma was smart, charismatic when she was awkward, and confident when she was ...

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The Professor's Daughter: A Novel

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Overview

A daughter's future and her father's past converge in this explosive first novel exploring identity, assimilation, and the legacy of race

"My father is black and my mother is white and my brother is a vegetable." When Emma Boudreaux's older brother, Bernie, winds up in a coma after a freak accident, it's as if she loses a part of herself. All their lives, he has served as her compass, her stronger, better half: Bernie was brilliant when Emma was smart, charismatic when she was awkward, and confident when she was shy. Only Bernie was able to navigate-if not always diplomatically-the terrain of their biracial identity. Now, as the chronic rash that's flared up throughout her life returns with a vengeance, Emma is sleepwalking through her first year at college, left alone to grow into herself.

The key to Emma's self-discovery lies in her father's past. Esteemed Princeton professor Bernard Boudreaux is emotionally absent and secretive about his family history. Little does Emma know just how haunted that history is, how tortured the path from the Deep South town to his present Ivy League success has been. Though her father and brother are bound by the past, Emma might just escape.

In exhilarating, magical prose, The Professor's Daughter traces the borderlands of race and family, the contested territory that gives birth to rage, confusion, madness, and invisibility. This striking debut marks the arrival of an astonishingly original voice that surges with energy and purpose.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Professor's Daughter intensely treats with a young life, the strains of an interracial family and the seemingly hopeless vicissitudes of adolescence. Sometimes funny, and at other times horrifying, it's always riveting and alive. This is a first rate job, a book that shows great subtlety and skill."

-Robert Stone, author of Bay Of Souls and Damascus Gate

"The Professor's Daughter is an exciting debut by an enchanting writer whose singular voice makes every page of this novel exceptional. Emily Raboteau is funny and moving in the tradition of our best novelists. This elegant novel heralds the arrival of an important new writer with something to say. I can't wait to read her next book, and the ones after that."

— Katharine Weber, author of The Little Women, The Music Lesson, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

"Emily Raboteau's prose is generous and precise, yet it is also lush and sensual and smart, without any tricks of forced irony. These qualities alone would make The Professor's Daughter memorable, but what sets it apart is its honest portrayal of characters who are entirely real because their author has summoned the courage to write nakedly and honestly about them. This is a moving and significant work by a truly gifted and important new writer among us."

—Andre Dubus III

"The world that Emily Raboteau has so wonderfully created here is at turns harsh, beautiful, strange, and always real. The language of this novel is lyrical, yet precise, at once dissecting the notion of biracial existence and, correctly, stripping it of any currency. This work is unflinchingly intelligent."

—Percival Everett, author of Erasure

"(Raboteau's) prose is vibrant with life...Her timing is excellent, her humor is wry, her voice is on point and her eye works with laserlike precision. Raboteau's sensitivity to life and to people is nothing short of astounding"

—San Francisco Chronicle

"Fearless and lyrically inventive, Raboteau is a writer to watch"

—O: The Oprah Magazine

"Raboteau tackles racism and racial violence in her dark, twisting semi-autobiographical novel, The Professor's Daughter. But what sets this profound debut apart and should ensure its success is not only its thematic cultural relevance but the immediacy and authenticity of its narrative."

—Elle

"Emily Raboteau's engaging first novel, The Professor's Daughter, takes up the fundamental American obsession with racial categorization and acknowledges the claims that the history of such categorization makes on the individual"

—Chicago Tribune

"Raboteau's lyrical yet clear writing style lends itself well to this story, which is often both terrifying and beautiful... A book with resonating themes and a powerful storyline, The Professor's Daughter is a strong debut from a talented writer."

—Bookpage

Library Journal
Born of a white mother and a black father, a distant Princeton professor, Emma loses the one anchor she has when her beloved brother ends up in a coma. There's big enthusiasm for this debut. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this powerful and unflinchingly stark story, Emma Boudreaux often reaches into the past to try to understand the present. Her father is black and her mother is white, and the teen is trying to find her place in a world in which she feels like an outsider. Her brother, Bernie, strong and perfect and comfortable with his blackness, is her anchor, her compass. When he has a freak accident and becomes a "vegetable," Emma feels abandoned and emotionally isolated. Left alone to discover who she is, she explores the past, especially her father's, Princeton professor Bernard Boudreaux. His own narrative reveals grim secrets and a twisted, tortured journey through family history to the present. At its darkest and most painful is the lynching of his father before he was born. It will take all of Emma's strength and resolve to survive, and to escape the shadowy and painful legacies that ensnared her father and brother. Raboteau's writing is vivid, compelling, and fearless as she tackles themes of racial violence, anger, family secrets, and self-discovery. The author changes perspective several times, from Emma to her father and even to Bernie in his comatose state, showing how each character is shaped by time and history. Readers will enjoy the history woven into the superb storytelling as Raboteau skillfully interweaves past and present events to reveal that love does somehow survive.-Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An award-winning storywriter's first novel underscores the effects of racism on three generations of an African-American family. "My father is black and my mother is white and my brother is a vegetable," explains Emma Boudreaux, sometime narrator of this nonlinear story of the Boudreaux family-including Emma's grandfather, father and brother. Professor Bernard Boudreaux Junior (BJ), the first black dean of Princeton's Graduate School of Arts and Science, grew up poor and disabled in Mississippi. A scholarship to a privileged school taught him that if he could not be white, like his tormenting peers, then he must achieve. But despite marriage to a white woman, "so my children wouldn't inherit our misery," BJ can't escape his legacy: the brutal, racist murder of his father, the first Bernard, an act that drove his mother insane. Bernie, Emma's gifted brother, is beautiful "the way a leopard is. Or twilight." But Bernie is destroyed when he accidentally urinates on a live rail line and is electrocuted, rendering him "raceless, faceless," with skin like raw meat, and brain-dead. Raboteau's reliance on unnuanced symbolism continues with Emma's occasional but extreme skin eruptions, which sometimes divide one side of her face from the other, "an outer manifestation of my inner state." Bernie's accident takes place six weeks after Emma's arrival at Yale. His eventual death and her abandonment by a lover who shares her skin color precipitate flight, first to New Orleans, then New York. On 9/11, she is attacked for looking Arabic. Finally, in Brazil, she reaches a place where everyone "looked like some permutation of her" so she can "begin." This triple-decker history of socially encouraged,physically expressed self-loathing doesn't take flight in the tale of Emma's release but in that of BJ's anguish and isolation, where Raboteau does succeed in articulating a sense of true pain. Part literary saga, part litany of righteous parables: an impassioned, poetic work that offers commitment as compensation for its overdeterminism. Agent: Amy Williams/Collins McCormick
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805075069
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/3/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Emily Raboteau holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, where she was a New York Times Fellow. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship. Her stories have been published in Tin House, The Missouri Review, and Best American Short Stories 2003. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at the City College of New York.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Professor's Daughter:

We are lying in the wet grass staring at the moon. It is summer and there is a golf course spread out like the train of a bridal gown down at the bottom of the hill. There are old people down there, dancing between the sand traps under paper lanterns. It is their reunion and they have an orchestra and the orchestra is playing a waltz and the violins trill out strings of sound that fly like kites up to us on the hill.

My brother looks like an Arabian prince. His saxophone is dismembered. The pieces are shining laid out in a circle around us. Bernie is pulling on a joint and holding the smoke in his lungs so long I worry he's not breathing. The moon is watching us. I touch his face and he lets go the smoke and it rolls away slowly.

"I found out what happened to Bernard Number One," he tells me. Our dad's dad is a secret.

"Did Dad tell you?"

"No."

Bernie and our dad don't talk anymore. They made our dad the first black dean and he moved us to this castle overlooking a golf course and he looked around and said what the hell am I doing here, my life is halfway over and look where I am. He told us, "I may be gone for one month, I may be gone for two months, I may be gone forever."

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2005

    A Little Disappointed

    After reading some great reviews on this book, I was so excited to read it. The book was alright but it didn't live up to my expectations. I think the some of the characters could have been better developed...Emma, Bernie, and their mother Lynn were complete mysteries. Bernard Jr. is the only character that I truly felt like I connected with...Too much time was spent on stories that didn't fit with what I thought the book was trying to convey(Lester's wife Meteke and Little Willa).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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