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One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets

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A father's stunning secret sparks a life-transforming journey in this very personal story about race and a daughter's relationship with her father. When Anatole Broyard reveals on his deathbed that he is actually black, it sets his daughter Bliss on a search through New York and New Orleans for the family she never knew. A father's stunning secret sparks a life-transforming journey in this very personal story about race and a daughter's relationship with her father. When Anatole Broyard reveals on his deathbed that he is actually black, it sets his daughter Bliss on a search through New York and New Orleans for the family she never knew.


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A father's stunning secret sparks a life-transforming journey in this very personal story about race and a daughter's relationship with her father. When Anatole Broyard reveals on his deathbed that he is actually black, it sets his daughter Bliss on a search through New York and New Orleans for the family she never knew. A father's stunning secret sparks a life-transforming journey in this very personal story about race and a daughter's relationship with her father. When Anatole Broyard reveals on his deathbed that he is actually black, it sets his daughter Bliss on a search through New York and New Orleans for the family she never knew.

30 review for One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    So many people who reviewed this book on this site said that they didn't like the book because they didn't like Anatole Broyard because he was an elitist or a distant father, etc. While I agree that he was portrayed as such and was probably really as his daughter described him, I felt sympathy, not disdain for him because of his situation. I assume that the reviewers who didn't feel sympathy for him don't understand what it is like to live as a hidden minority able to blend in with the majority, So many people who reviewed this book on this site said that they didn't like the book because they didn't like Anatole Broyard because he was an elitist or a distant father, etc. While I agree that he was portrayed as such and was probably really as his daughter described him, I felt sympathy, not disdain for him because of his situation. I assume that the reviewers who didn't feel sympathy for him don't understand what it is like to live as a hidden minority able to blend in with the majority, avoiding direct prejudice or discrimination while bearing the pain of hearing the majority disparage the minority you are a part of because they don't think any of 'those people' are around. This is an incredible book that should have a profound effect on race relations in the US for years to come. I found Bliss's admission of racism courageous and her confrontation of that racism even braver.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Charlaralotte

    I'm glad Bliss wrote this book. I didn't make it all the way through. I think she might still be wrestling with some big issues, and maybe in another 5 years could write a more concise book. That said, the history of New Orleans and slavery was fascinating. I got kinda mad when she said her brother was showing his "blackness" by playing blues on the harmonica. She has a pretty rigid idea of stereotypes. My mom read the whole book, and I asked her if Bliss had any huge revelation at the end. My mo I'm glad Bliss wrote this book. I didn't make it all the way through. I think she might still be wrestling with some big issues, and maybe in another 5 years could write a more concise book. That said, the history of New Orleans and slavery was fascinating. I got kinda mad when she said her brother was showing his "blackness" by playing blues on the harmonica. She has a pretty rigid idea of stereotypes. My mom read the whole book, and I asked her if Bliss had any huge revelation at the end. My mom said unfortunately not. So I stopped reading. I mean, she's still a little dense about the whole thing. I'll let her mature more. The book reminded me of the kind of book I'd write: it would seem like a very important subject to me, but just outside of my grasp to accurately describe. Also, while we're on this subject, Barack Obama is not black. This country is so screwed up about race. I mean, I guess he's black if he says he's black, but the "one drop" rule is a very out-of-date rule to still be using in this country. I fear we may never stop using it. Race is a social construct & it pisses me off.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I really don't think Bliss Broyard has the chops to do justice to her father's life--but then again who does? Not even Philip Roth was up to it (as a study in racial ambiguity, 'The Human Stain,' its protagonist modeled on Broyard, is a distinct disappointment). To render Broyard well you would need to be a novelistic triathlete possesing the ease and understatement of Henry James, the historical sense of Faulkner or Ellison, and the tragico-symbolic grasp of Melville at his best. And a dash of I really don't think Bliss Broyard has the chops to do justice to her father's life--but then again who does? Not even Philip Roth was up to it (as a study in racial ambiguity, 'The Human Stain,' its protagonist modeled on Broyard, is a distinct disappointment). To render Broyard well you would need to be a novelistic triathlete possesing the ease and understatement of Henry James, the historical sense of Faulkner or Ellison, and the tragico-symbolic grasp of Melville at his best. And a dash of Bellow's erotic, urban atmospherics wouldn't hurt. As it is, Bliss Boyard approaches the story with the formula of the bland Contemporary Family Memoir. I think that buried within the life of Anatole Broyard lies a significant American character, a national symbol; he awaits his Fitzgerald.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kim Logan

    Pretty disappointed with this book. The fact that I couldn't relate and didn't even like any of the characters in the novel made it difficult for me to become engaged or invested in them. I did admire the admittances of the author in some of her prejudices as well as how open she seemed to share her innermost feelings and insecurities. However, her entire journey irritated me. I didn't like that she was trying to find soem slavery in her background that could validate that she was black. I also Pretty disappointed with this book. The fact that I couldn't relate and didn't even like any of the characters in the novel made it difficult for me to become engaged or invested in them. I did admire the admittances of the author in some of her prejudices as well as how open she seemed to share her innermost feelings and insecurities. However, her entire journey irritated me. I didn't like that she was trying to find soem slavery in her background that could validate that she was black. I also resented the fact that her father seemed so intent on passing to give his family a better life, he didn't seem to teach them about tolerance of others. The fact that he passed didn't bother me as much as how he seemed to take on the prejudices and distaste for black people some members of the majority have as well. Although the author stated the point of the novel was to discover her racial identity, she failed to do so. She gave a history lesson on her family and then ended the book. Some interesting points in the book, but overall it was pretty underwhelming.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    My enjoyment of this book was mixed. Bliss is a decent writer, but will probably never live up to her father’s legacy. Although Anatole Broyard was an amazing columnist, the way he was described makes me truly dislike him, and hence it was hard to like the book. Anatole called his children boring because he considered himself an intellectual - he went so far as to tell them not to talk if they didn‘t have something interesting to say. He was absent from his children’s lives while his wife suffer My enjoyment of this book was mixed. Bliss is a decent writer, but will probably never live up to her father’s legacy. Although Anatole Broyard was an amazing columnist, the way he was described makes me truly dislike him, and hence it was hard to like the book. Anatole called his children boring because he considered himself an intellectual - he went so far as to tell them not to talk if they didn‘t have something interesting to say. He was absent from his children’s lives while his wife suffered with alcoholism. He obsessed over portraying his family as wealthier than they were, and could barely afford the oversized houses they lived in through the years. He even had to borrow money to bring his first born child home from the hospital. In addition, I felt the back cover of the book was slightly deceptive - especially on one of the most intriguing reasons to read the book. It was not the author‘s father, who supposedly on his death bed, finally revealed the secret that he kept from his children - his concealment of his Creole and Black identity for the majority of his life. It was the author’s mother that exposed this news while her father was dying of cancer, but no longer fully lucid and capable of such a disclosure. SERIOUSLY? How can the author allow a marketer to intentionally deceive the reader in order to make the book seem more compelling? This type of error is unacceptable. Bliss Broyard clearly mentions that the discovery of her hidden background emanates from her mother and not her father. I also felt the mid section of the book was an overly historical perspective of her father’s Black and Creole family tree. I learned a few interesting nuggets of info, but felt this section diverged from the original intention of the book - to describe how she dealt growing up white and trying to understand the connection to her father’s secret family. It was bloated and boring and lacked emotion. Overall, the book seem contrived. Why was it so important to find her distant relatives in New Orleans when she had at least one half sister (her father’s child from another marriage) whose existence had no impact on her? I think her father’s hidden history was an excuse to finally write a book. The family tree provided enough bulk to pad it, but Bliss’ attempt to convey her understanding of her life was a bit underwhelming.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Debby Irving

    Bliss Broyard's research into her father's surprise family history made this a page-turner for me. As she reflects on her white, upper middle-class upbringing in contrast to the world her father came from, the costs of being a person of color AND the costs of trying to pass as white come into relief. Broyard's pursuit of answers to tough questions centered around identity and survival bring her to unexpected places -- both geographically and internally. The fact that the author and her extended Bliss Broyard's research into her father's surprise family history made this a page-turner for me. As she reflects on her white, upper middle-class upbringing in contrast to the world her father came from, the costs of being a person of color AND the costs of trying to pass as white come into relief. Broyard's pursuit of answers to tough questions centered around identity and survival bring her to unexpected places -- both geographically and internally. The fact that the author and her extended family do not fall neatly into America's prescribed social location boxes forced me to reflect deeply on the rigid labeling of humans. Both a compelling read and an education in racial identity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ezzy

    I'm not really very familiar with the work of Anatole Broyard, so I can't speak to how accurately his daughter portrayed him in this book. But I can review the book itself and the ideas about race. I'll confess, for the first 1/3 of the book or so, I couldn't get over what a twit the author seemed to be. She was raised Whitey McWhiteGirl in wealthy Connecticut, but when she later finds out that her father was "part" African American, she thinks back to all the things like what good dancers they a I'm not really very familiar with the work of Anatole Broyard, so I can't speak to how accurately his daughter portrayed him in this book. But I can review the book itself and the ideas about race. I'll confess, for the first 1/3 of the book or so, I couldn't get over what a twit the author seemed to be. She was raised Whitey McWhiteGirl in wealthy Connecticut, but when she later finds out that her father was "part" African American, she thinks back to all the things like what good dancers they are, or how her brother plays blues harmonica. Maybe she should have known all along! She does seem to wise up a bit, but that's where the book becomes a more generic history of African Americans in New Orleans, both free and slave. "My Confederate Kinfolk" did it better. I sympathize that it's a fine line between being "brave" in addressing race, and falling into trite stereotypes. Ms. Broyard tries, and sometimes fails and sometimes comes up with something interesting. Overall, I have a hard time understanding how people get so hung up on genealogy and family history (I have always failed to see what kind of relevance it has on the lives we lead today). She seems to be obsessed with her genetic makeup and what it says about her, and after a while I loose sympathy for someone who cannot just be herself without the context of her racial history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    R.C. Waller

    This book may have well been a history book with it's detailed account of events and historical "state of affairs" reporting on life in this country for blacks, coloreds, Creoles and whites from the 1920's until present day. This Bliss Broyard does as she "re-weaves" the story of her father, Anatole, trying with all her heart to understand his choice in "passing" as white. She traces not only her own families' experience but opens a door of understanding on the whole practice in general, and we This book may have well been a history book with it's detailed account of events and historical "state of affairs" reporting on life in this country for blacks, coloreds, Creoles and whites from the 1920's until present day. This Bliss Broyard does as she "re-weaves" the story of her father, Anatole, trying with all her heart to understand his choice in "passing" as white. She traces not only her own families' experience but opens a door of understanding on the whole practice in general, and we get to follow her as she meets welcoming, as well as, unwelcoming members of her extended, previously unknown family. Most of all, she unravels the life of her father and the reader has to decide whether this handsome, bohemian, artistic man was simply self-centered and cowardly, or wise and brave. Bliss brings out the good and bad attributes of her father as she discovers him to be almost another man in light of the background he withheld from her and many others. I enjoyed the reading. Both entertaining and very informative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    It's all about Bliss, and what a sheltered lass she was. This book desperately needed an editor with heavy pruning shears. There's an important story buried underneath her embarrassing reminiscences, but she is not the one to tell it. It's all about Bliss, and what a sheltered lass she was. This book desperately needed an editor with heavy pruning shears. There's an important story buried underneath her embarrassing reminiscences, but she is not the one to tell it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Izetta Autumn

    I'm in the process of thinking through what I'd like to say about One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life. What immediately comes to mind as I begin, is the fact that my rating system does't work with this book. Its out of sync. Here is a book where deft technical skills produced well written paragraphs and chapters, and yet that higher level of nuance - the wit (caustic or fun), insight, and synergy of truly great writing was missing. Ah, but the technique. If this had been a book of how to put toget I'm in the process of thinking through what I'd like to say about One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life. What immediately comes to mind as I begin, is the fact that my rating system does't work with this book. Its out of sync. Here is a book where deft technical skills produced well written paragraphs and chapters, and yet that higher level of nuance - the wit (caustic or fun), insight, and synergy of truly great writing was missing. Ah, but the technique. If this had been a book of how to put together a mechanical instrument, it would be unassailable, but it's not; it's a book attempting to reconstruct the life of a complicated man. And so, technique, strong as it is, is not enough. In large part, I agree with the Washington Post review, that Bliss Broyard attempted to combine too many genres in one book. The result is indeed an "overlong" work that doesn't meld history (personal and national) as well as it might. The opening passages of One Drop, where Broyard draws out her family's characters, patterns, and values, does more to paint a picture of her complicated father than the middle section which is completely over run by the history of New Orleans - and at times, seems like an attempt to abdicate her father, who it seems wasn't confused about his racial identity, so much as he was struggling with giving up the benefits of white skin privilege, self-loathing, and ambivalence about family. I think Broyard understood he was multiracial and that in the U.S. context at least, he and his family would and often did consider themselves, multiracial Black people. The kernel that I think isn't developed as much as it could be, is that Anatole Broyard felt isolated, as much for his sheer brillance, as he did for his race. It appears, however, that because he was so young when he began to pass (at the direction of his family, so that his father could work) that race became attached to access and isolation. He tagged his race as what made him feel isolated, not his intelligence or even the dynamics is his family. In this faulty logic, perhaps Broyard decided that it was his family, identifying as multiracially Black that was disappointing him. I think Bliss Broyard is trying to bring that forth, but it just doesn't work as well as it could. I too was hoping and waiting for Broyard's deeper understandings or revelations about race. What was it like to watch white people learn of their ancestry in the record rooms in Louisiana? What had she learned about white privilege? The book did get me interested in the subject of "passing." I'm still turning over my thoughts on this one....

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Anatole Broyard was the New York Times' daily book reviewer for quite a few years. He lived an upper middle class (though usually overextended) life, raising his and his wife's two children in Southport, Connecticut. Shortly before his death, his wife insisted that he tell their children his secret. They learned that his family background was not solely French, but Creole and of mixed race. By the "one drop" rule that had applied in some Southern states, he was black, and had been "passing for w Anatole Broyard was the New York Times' daily book reviewer for quite a few years. He lived an upper middle class (though usually overextended) life, raising his and his wife's two children in Southport, Connecticut. Shortly before his death, his wife insisted that he tell their children his secret. They learned that his family background was not solely French, but Creole and of mixed race. By the "one drop" rule that had applied in some Southern states, he was black, and had been "passing for white" since his high school graduation. For Broyard's daughter, Bliss, this revelation explained a great deal about her father and his family, but raised many more questions. This book is her attempt to answer them. Bliss spent many years researching her family history, seeking out relatives near and distant, and in the process learning a lot about black, and specifically Creole, history, and about the history of "passing" in America. One Drop was fascinating, if a bit overlong, especially in the middle of the book, where I learned rather more about Reconstruction in Louisiana than I needed to understand the family's story. I can certainly sympathize with the author, being a genealogist and family historian myself; it's sometimes hard to draw the line between the historical background the reader needs in order to put the ancestors' stories into context, and an exhaustive treatment that would be better saved for an actual history text. Anatole Broyard was a complex person to begin with, and his experience of "passing" probably increased that complexity. Although he obviously loved his children very much, his all but repudiation of his birth family affected them negatively. One of the saddest parts of the book was Bliss's feeling, mentioned more than once, that to her father, friends once chosen were to be loved unconditionally; but family members had to earn, and keep on earning, his love.

  12. 5 out of 5

    R.J.

    I heard about this book through a documentary by Henry Louis Gates. Broyard's time at the NYTimes Review of Books was a bit pre-RJ literary awareness era. I admired the Bliss Broyard interviewed in the Gates documentary but the woman narrating the book often tread upon my nerves. Her need to be 'cool' by being colored, black, having slave ancestors, annoyed me. Her act as historian was dry and insufficiently interesting. However, her own family's history was quite interesting not only their hist I heard about this book through a documentary by Henry Louis Gates. Broyard's time at the NYTimes Review of Books was a bit pre-RJ literary awareness era. I admired the Bliss Broyard interviewed in the Gates documentary but the woman narrating the book often tread upon my nerves. Her need to be 'cool' by being colored, black, having slave ancestors, annoyed me. Her act as historian was dry and insufficiently interesting. However, her own family's history was quite interesting not only their history in New Orleans but the discussion of race identity within a family--from those who very much identify as 'black' and those who wont even recognize the question exists. Are they deniers or idealists? For all the things that I did not like about this book, its discussion of America, New Orleans, race, identity, loyalty and parents is quite thought provoking. Why do we think we *need* or get a right to know everything about our parents? We aren't that interested until we think they're hiding something from us. We're allowed secrets but they are not? And was this such a huge secret? The identity, race of Antalole Boyard, so many seemed to know. Or rather, wasn't it his shame for abandoning his mother and sisters?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

    This book actually encompasses three, deeply interconnected books, but still three books in one. The first book explores Bliss Broyard’s struggle with identity after the revelation of her father’s ancestry. The second book documents Anatole Broyard’s life, exploring his decisions and life using careful research. The third book delves into Bliss Broyard’s genealogical research into her father’s family. This last book provides the reader WONDERFUL historical context, aiding the reader’s understand This book actually encompasses three, deeply interconnected books, but still three books in one. The first book explores Bliss Broyard’s struggle with identity after the revelation of her father’s ancestry. The second book documents Anatole Broyard’s life, exploring his decisions and life using careful research. The third book delves into Bliss Broyard’s genealogical research into her father’s family. This last book provides the reader WONDERFUL historical context, aiding the reader’s understanding. Broyard did a great job of blending these three books. I do understand the reasons why people expressed less than enthusiastic reviews because the three books make for both a long read. In addition, not everyone wants to read these three books. I’m not everyone. I enjoy reading all three of these kinds of books. I especially enjoyed Broyard’s book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Meck

    Yes, it's long. Maybe a little too long. Yet, what Bliss Broyard has bitten off takes a long time to chew. Finding out when you are 23 and your father is dying that your father chose to pass as white though he was born into and raised by a New Orleans Creole family is a complicated thing. So many questions come up: why pass? why not? who was this man who kept this secret? was it a secret? who knew and who cared? what is black, Creole, white? what is race? what are the moral implications of makin Yes, it's long. Maybe a little too long. Yet, what Bliss Broyard has bitten off takes a long time to chew. Finding out when you are 23 and your father is dying that your father chose to pass as white though he was born into and raised by a New Orleans Creole family is a complicated thing. So many questions come up: why pass? why not? who was this man who kept this secret? was it a secret? who knew and who cared? what is black, Creole, white? what is race? what are the moral implications of making choices of this kind? who am I given this? WHAT am I? And since she didn't have a ready-made community that could answer the questions or help her explore answers, she had a lot of research to do....which is in itself a compelling story. I was struck again and again by Broyard's authentic voice, her willingness to articulate what was going on for her. This is, after all, not the story of her father. It is HER story - the story of her own discovery. She shares what I can only imagine are painful truths about the people she loves most, about her own journey, and about the wonder of making connections. I found it to be a brave and compelling read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    A decade ago in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, noted black scholar Henry Louis Gates wrote an unflattering portrait of Anatole Broyard and his "passing." Critic Art Winslow suggests that Bliss Broyard's memoir may be "intended as a rejoinder to Gates." Author of the short story collection My Father, Dancing (2000; New York Times Notable Book), Broyard offers a passionate, lively narrative packed with hundreds of interviews with family members (both black and white), friends, lovers, an A decade ago in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, noted black scholar Henry Louis Gates wrote an unflattering portrait of Anatole Broyard and his "passing." Critic Art Winslow suggests that Bliss Broyard's memoir may be "intended as a rejoinder to Gates." Author of the short story collection My Father, Dancing (2000; New York Times Notable Book), Broyard offers a passionate, lively narrative packed with hundreds of interviews with family members (both black and white), friends, lovers, and others who knew her father well. The result is not always seamless; the book's intent is not always clear; and Jonathan Yardley finds Broyard's "fretting about her racial identity" bothersome. Still, the author generally succeeds in offering an ambitious and personal perspective on issues relevant to her own family and anyone interested in race relations in America.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Peterson

    Interesting book about finding your racial identity. What makes a person black? Is it the color of their skin? Or being brought up in the black culture? The author finds out at the end of her father's life that he had been "passing" as white. She then tries to find out what it means to be a woman of mixed race ancestry. I found the book to be meandering, but well-written. It might have been better as two separate books since the author kept moving between two stories--the story behind her family Interesting book about finding your racial identity. What makes a person black? Is it the color of their skin? Or being brought up in the black culture? The author finds out at the end of her father's life that he had been "passing" as white. She then tries to find out what it means to be a woman of mixed race ancestry. I found the book to be meandering, but well-written. It might have been better as two separate books since the author kept moving between two stories--the story behind her family's mixed race ancestry, and her own quest to find how she should see herself and the juxtaposition of how society sees her.

  17. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    Just finished reading Bliss Broyard's memoir about her father Anatole Broyard, One Drop: A Daughter's Story of Race and Family Secrets (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007). I discovered Broyard's book after reading her father's books Kafka was all the Rage and Intoxicated by my Illness (a beautifully crafted book on disease and dying) and was curious about her take on her father's racial identity. The book follows Broyard's discovery on her father's deathbed (from cancer) that he had passed Just finished reading Bliss Broyard's memoir about her father Anatole Broyard, One Drop: A Daughter's Story of Race and Family Secrets (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007). I discovered Broyard's book after reading her father's books Kafka was all the Rage and Intoxicated by my Illness (a beautifully crafted book on disease and dying) and was curious about her take on her father's racial identity. The book follows Broyard's discovery on her father's deathbed (from cancer) that he had passed as white and that he had hid his racial identity from his children. Through this discovery Broyard uncovers the complicated nature of race and racial definition in America. She discovers narratives and stories of passing which are often fascinating and present how these stories are woven into the fabric of every African-American community and she weaves together the story of her family with that of Creoles in New Orleans and African-Americans in American culture. In the process of unraveling her father's racial past, she finds herself questioning her own identity and discovers her father's Creole family. While the story is fascinating and Broyard has certainly been captured her father's sensitivity to language (his writing is truly beautiful) sometimes the narrative is weighted down by her constant need to draw lines between the muddled categories of race and racial identity in America. Indeed Debra Dickerson in a Mother Jones review titled appropriately, The Autobiography of an Ex-White Woman suggests, "Black people will often dislike her for this book; many will have to fight their own spite throughout, sputtering with remembrances of all the tragic-by-choice exotic multi-breeds they've known who expect nappy headed ho's to sympathize with their inability to grow afros. More than hair follicles block that connection. Bliss figured that out eventually, one exhaustively researched book later, one massive act of penance for ancestors she can never understand. There's no getting to the bottom of race or becoming black by revelation. 'Race' is how the world reacts to you, not your genetic code. When asked, and in America you will be, Bliss answers: "My father was part black but I was raised white. "She's described race perfectly: she told you everything and nothing." While Broyard's own story is fascinating her constant need to wrap herself in a cloak of blackness can sometimes cloud the narrative of her own self-discovery. The book could certainly have helped with tighter editing, at 528 pages sometimes the narrative becomes drawn out and repetitive. “History, as the Italian political theorists Antonio Gramsci put it, “Had deposited in me an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory.” Bliss Broyard, One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007): 141

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    This is a extremely interesting memoir. The author learned, at the age of about twenty-one, as her father was dying of cancer, that he was an African American, who had been passing for white for most of his adult life. That she had an entire other side of her family she had basically never met (including relatively famous Civil Rights activists). Her father was a Creole, whose parents had come up from Louisiana to New York before the Second World War, and he had decided, when in college that he This is a extremely interesting memoir. The author learned, at the age of about twenty-one, as her father was dying of cancer, that he was an African American, who had been passing for white for most of his adult life. That she had an entire other side of her family she had basically never met (including relatively famous Civil Rights activists). Her father was a Creole, whose parents had come up from Louisiana to New York before the Second World War, and he had decided, when in college that he no longer wanted to be black. And because he was barely “black” at all (and this is one of the issues delved into at great length in the book - what does it mean to be “black” when you are lighter skinned than many “whites”?), he turned away from his family (especially his one sister who couldn’t pass) and became a famous literary critic and, for a while, editor of the New York Times book review. And the book is about how his daughter came to learn this information, and try to process it and understand it, including facing her own racism and uncomfortableness trying to feel “black” having been “white” her whole life, as well as getting to know the other parts of her family - those who didn’t pass and those who did, as well as learning about her family’s history of intermarriage in New Orleans (including one “white” member who decided to pass as “black”). But the book is particularly interesting because as much as Bliss had no idea about her family, many other people knew. It was sort of an open secret in the literary world that Anatole was black - but it was thought impolite to discuss, or perhaps even unimportant. It was so interesting to me how it was not such a big deal and was such a huge important thing at the same time. An absolutely fascinating topic, with a lot to chew on. My one complaint would be that while this is a pretty good book, Bliss is not quite up to the task of making it a phenomenal book - she is a good writer, and its quite a read, but I imagine someone like, say Daniel Mendelsohn (who wrote The Lost) writing at book like this (or, I don’t know, Barack Obama) , and I think it could be the book - something for the ages. But it is Bliss’s story and she tells it well, and its a darn fine read - unfair to complain because it’s not a phenomenal one.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andre

    It has been quite a while since I read this book but I still remember my reaction to it. On the one hand it was very interesting on the other the author was pretty annoying and disappointing. First I know nothing about her father and quite frankly I do not care, since I see no influence this guy had on my life and despite what many say for me it is impossible to see this man as black in any way. Unlike his daughter as it seems. Now the book was not written badly or anything, it was easy to read, It has been quite a while since I read this book but I still remember my reaction to it. On the one hand it was very interesting on the other the author was pretty annoying and disappointing. First I know nothing about her father and quite frankly I do not care, since I see no influence this guy had on my life and despite what many say for me it is impossible to see this man as black in any way. Unlike his daughter as it seems. Now the book was not written badly or anything, it was easy to read, I got through it fast and some stuff kept stuck even after years so in that department the author and her editors apparently knew what she was doing. But as you guessed there was a big minus in this book that left me disappointed at the author as a person: Her apparent insistence that she is black. No idea whether she still believes that today but back when writing this book she seems to have done so. And even if not, her ideas and opinions about race seemed to me pretty screwed and illogical even back then. To be frank some logic alone shows that something is irrational about her decisions. I had expected her to tackle such concepts and think about them. Instead she seemed to only enforce them and do the most stereotypical and racist thing there could be in her situation. (view spoiler)[ To give an example: She wrote several times that some of the relatives of hers she met "could be mistaken for Portuguese or Jews "and what not and also that she does not seem to support the one-drop rule (basically the myth that having one "black ancestor" makes you black, which begs the question what makes you black), but her own writing portrays the opposite in my eyes. First if these "blacks" could be "mistaken" for Portuguese and Jews, or Spanish and the like, what does that mean and how "black" could they have been then? And not only is it ridiculous to assign Jewish identity based on looks since you can a) convert to Judaism so in theory it is something you can chose and b) as the Bene Israel and Beta Israel proof being Jewish has nothing to do with how you look, but also how can you mistake an actual Sub Saharan African with someone of full recent Portuguese descent? And in her eyes apparently someone knowledgeable would see the "black traits" or something, which for me means that the author saw what she wanted to see. Which would lead to the conclusion that her perceptions and opinions are screwed. But the author seemed to belief that all she wrote was legitimate and right. And again, that begs the question: What makes somebody black? Having "black" ancestry? Well what made these ancestors black then? And why is it that a "little drop" counts so much more than the rest? Isn't that racism in its purest? The fear of miscegenation? That when you are not fully white you are always something else respectively belong to that "non-white" lineage? And does that mean everyone is black? Since even if our particular human species did not evolve in Africa, the earliest humans did come from there and based on our nearest relatives they probably had dark skin. After all, the one drop rule apparently has no time limit as the case of Broyard suggests I had expected the woman to tackle these questions instead she did the most stereotypical and racist thing I could think of: She asked herself whether she was black. PS. Even the whole "mixed-race" thing might not be as special as she makes it out to be. Let's say you separate the human population into 4 races: Australoid, Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid then being mixed is really nothing special. The differences is just that e.g. in Australia the mixing happened more recently although evidence of Caucasoid x Australoid mixing about 4000 years ago has been found. In either way it would be ridiculous to assume that there has been no gene exchange between Caucasoids and Mongoloids for some time now since there is no natural barrier sufficient enough for keeping people truly separate in Eurasia. And seriously sex and imperialism was definitely strong enough even in ancient times to screw around in wide spaces of Africa. So in short: probably way more people are "mixed race" according to this line of thinking than many think, so all thee "mixed-race" people already existed before the race concept was even established and therefore what people described would already be mixed-raced people and therefore racial categorization would be pretty useless since their foundation is already too weak to be of any support. (hide spoiler)]

  20. 4 out of 5

    Raven

    I winced my way through the first third or so of this book, and occasionally thereafter, but Bliss Broyard turns it around beautifully for the later heart of her subject matter. The structure of the book mirrors the development of her own thought about her family's cultures, chosen and abandoned, and the assignment versus choice of racial designations of her relatives. It provides several excellent jumping-off points for discussions of public policy and social parsings of race, but pretty much a I winced my way through the first third or so of this book, and occasionally thereafter, but Bliss Broyard turns it around beautifully for the later heart of her subject matter. The structure of the book mirrors the development of her own thought about her family's cultures, chosen and abandoned, and the assignment versus choice of racial designations of her relatives. It provides several excellent jumping-off points for discussions of public policy and social parsings of race, but pretty much all of the author's early thought process is terrible and you have to suffer through her initial ignorance right along with her. I was interested by her coverage of the Greenwich Village literary scene of the '40s and '50s, and would have liked to read more about that period of her father's life. I did very much appreciate her deep delving into the history of New Orleans Creoles and the French and American legal forces that shaped their life choices -- that history was my favorite part of the book. But I think her authorial voice shines best in her empathy for the other members of her family who don't necessarily want the open-armed reconstruction of wholeness that she's looking for in her revelations about her father's ancestry -- many people don't do well with hearing no for an answer, particularly if they're writing a book on something they care deeply about. If you're not deeply interested in Louisiana's history, the book will probably drag on a bit too long, but I was totally into it once the author owned and attempted to address her early painful cluelessness.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    This almost 500 page tome focuses on the author's father and her search to discover his African-American roots, which he never divulged to his son and daughter (the author). Much time is spent on the genealogy of the Broyard family, and at times, which is ubiquitous with this type of subject matter, gets confusing with the relationships between the family members and the main character. I found Bliss's fantasies of several events in her research to be annoying and, for me, took away from the thr This almost 500 page tome focuses on the author's father and her search to discover his African-American roots, which he never divulged to his son and daughter (the author). Much time is spent on the genealogy of the Broyard family, and at times, which is ubiquitous with this type of subject matter, gets confusing with the relationships between the family members and the main character. I found Bliss's fantasies of several events in her research to be annoying and, for me, took away from the thread of the story. Sometimes it's better to leave questions unanswered rather than imagining what you'd like to be the case. The book lost steam as it rolled along. I didn't find Bliss's father to be a particularly likable guy or one who deserved admiration from either his peers, which he seemed to have difficult relationships with, or his family, which took on the undertone of abuse and neglect. Her father's self-involved, elitist, class-conscious nature wore me down. Bliss's constant struggle with how to label herself when she consistently received the same answer from those she consulted was frustrating for me. I found her to be very immature. By the end of the book Bliss didn't reveal, to me, any personal growth. I did give the book 3 stars because I enjoyed the first portion of the book and I also found the history portion very interesting. I'm sure it will bring about lively conversation with my book club, but I can't recommend it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vilo

    This is a fascinating memoir by a woman who was raised in fairly exclusive almost entirely white New England community. Around the time of her father's death she finds out that he had a complicated racial history and that his family, some of whom she had seldom met and others never, were black. One uncle and aunt were very involved in the Civil Rights movement, which her father had largely ignored. As the author explores her father's background and what might have caused him to take his life's r This is a fascinating memoir by a woman who was raised in fairly exclusive almost entirely white New England community. Around the time of her father's death she finds out that he had a complicated racial history and that his family, some of whom she had seldom met and others never, were black. One uncle and aunt were very involved in the Civil Rights movement, which her father had largely ignored. As the author explores her father's background and what might have caused him to take his life's route, she uncovers our nation's racial history in all its contradictions and fluctuations. One test of "blackness," for instance, was the "paper bag test." If you were darker than a paper grocery bag, you were black. Another, of course, was the "one drop." If it was proved you had even "one drop" of "black blood" then you were black. Of course, the stakes were extremely high at certain points in history and could make an enormous difference in one's life and prospects. Near the end of the book the author shares what DNA testing contributes these days to the ongoing discussion.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    I'm stuck between 3 and 4 stars for this book. Her story is interesting, without a doubt, but it's dull at times. Her theories for why her father chose to pass as white are intriguing and that's when the book is at it best. However, most frustrating are the snippets of history she's chosen to include that would probable be better as endnotes. Also, speaking as a mixed woman, i'm not entirely convinced of her "plight." I've known mixed people who physically look one race and I know of their strugg I'm stuck between 3 and 4 stars for this book. Her story is interesting, without a doubt, but it's dull at times. Her theories for why her father chose to pass as white are intriguing and that's when the book is at it best. However, most frustrating are the snippets of history she's chosen to include that would probable be better as endnotes. Also, speaking as a mixed woman, i'm not entirely convinced of her "plight." I've known mixed people who physically look one race and I know of their struggle to remain true to all of their background. I got the sense that the author wants a badge of approval for her identity, rather than just owning it herself. I admire her interest in the topic, but i'm not wholly convinced of her altruism.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    This would have been a better book if Broyard had allowed some editing to sharpen its focus. At various times she talks about her father (really not until the last third of One Drop), the history of the Creole and New Orleans and her own interactions with various Broyards, both those who identify as white and those who do not. It gets a bit confusing, since some call themselves Creole, and some African American. Anyone who reads this will probably be drawn to one section more than the others. Fr This would have been a better book if Broyard had allowed some editing to sharpen its focus. At various times she talks about her father (really not until the last third of One Drop), the history of the Creole and New Orleans and her own interactions with various Broyards, both those who identify as white and those who do not. It gets a bit confusing, since some call themselves Creole, and some African American. Anyone who reads this will probably be drawn to one section more than the others. Frankly, the history of race in Louisiana and then my native Brooklyn was the most interesting to me. I was least taken by Bliss Broyard's attempt to make sense of who she is in light of discovering that she has people of color in her direct family tree. It is exasperating because she can't simply redefine herself as black without being prepared to spend the rest of her life explaining that she is to everyone. Her Broyard cousins who did not pass simply tel her "Well, you're Bliss!" and it is difficult to understand why this is a wrong answer. Surely you don't have be be black to separate yourself from people around you who make racist remarks? Some of the identifiers that Bliss uses to catch her father's "blackness" are a little weird. He is a good dancer. He walks a certain way. He liked jazz. I mean, so did Fred Astaire, Bliss. When she wrote the book, Broyard could not have anticipated the sludge of racism that inundated the country throughout Barack Obama's presidency, and still less that an actual racist would be elected to our highest office in 2016. Race has been the defining agony of our nation, and is likely to continue as such well into this century unless white America can come to terms with its legacy in regard to people of color. Broyard had the chance to take a hard look at a subject through the prism of personal experience, and wasn't quite up to it. I hope she revisits this book now; it would be interesting to see her take another whack at race in the United States. Until she does, One Drop remains a nice enough read --- I was never bored. Just frustrated.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    This book was very interesting, even if the topic of race relations is not all that riveting to selfish me. The author was in her early twenties when she and her brother learn that their dad is an African American. As far as they new he was of mixed descent and from New Orleans. This book is a very good history lesson about New Orleans, which was for many years, despite the southern slavery tradition, a place where free African Americans prospered. The book covers her search and what she learns. This book was very interesting, even if the topic of race relations is not all that riveting to selfish me. The author was in her early twenties when she and her brother learn that their dad is an African American. As far as they new he was of mixed descent and from New Orleans. This book is a very good history lesson about New Orleans, which was for many years, despite the southern slavery tradition, a place where free African Americans prospered. The book covers her search and what she learns. It is a strange thing, because once she starts to investigate her family history, more than a few folks tell her they "knew" about her dad. She grew up in Connecticut and lived a sheltered Caucasian existence. Don't sue her, it was not her fault. She grew up never knowing her cousins, seeing her grandmother only once or twice, and, never really asking why. The author was not obnoxious and did not claim to be anything other than a person looking up family history. While I found the book well written and pretty engrossing, I would not say the story was riveting or her journey was that compelling. Her new identity could not change her life as it had been for so long, so there was not any melodrama about that. But, as much as I thought her father's life was notable, she probably could have written just as much about her mother. I passed the book off to Susan, I think the other sisters who read it liked it okay too. My mother loved it, but part of it was because the father wrote for the New York Times, and that is always a big deal for her. She also is much closer to our racist American past and even gives money to the some group in the south that monitors klan activity.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    The author's father was Anatole Broyard, the former editor of the NYTimes Book Review. He wrote about his illness at the end of his life in a one page article in the NYTimes magazine and a quote from that piece propelled me through my thesis. I read more of his work and liked it less, but that one article was fabulous. She and her brother discovered that their father's family was African American or "Black" just before he died. As a reader, you extrapolate that he had cut off relations with them The author's father was Anatole Broyard, the former editor of the NYTimes Book Review. He wrote about his illness at the end of his life in a one page article in the NYTimes magazine and a quote from that piece propelled me through my thesis. I read more of his work and liked it less, but that one article was fabulous. She and her brother discovered that their father's family was African American or "Black" just before he died. As a reader, you extrapolate that he had cut off relations with them because he was "passing" as white, in his adult life. That explanation is too simple and this book explores the complexities of identity and group membership and who gets to decide what a person is, and what it means to identify or not with a partiuclar group. His family were Creole from Louisiana, though he grew up in Brooklyn, and they had a range of shades, coming from a number of groups- Indian, Black, White, but the times required people to be clearly in one group or another and their were huge economic consequences with identifying as black. The dad was born in 1920, a year before my father, while Jim Crow reigned in the south (and he was born in New Orleans). It is a fascinating and at times wrenching book. The daughter has done a careful and deeply thoughtful piece of work. some of it is hard to read, but it is worth reading. It is equally about growing up, and parent-child relationships in adulthood, and how they are negotiated or not, and the huge personal cost to cutting of relations with one's family. It explores memory and meaning, and how our families' stories stay with us, somehow, now matter how our parents attempt to protect us.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    As a young man, Anatole Broyard moved from Louisiana to New York City and found that in order to break into the very WASP world of 1950s publishing and literary work, he needed to not be a black man. So, thanks to Creole mixed features and iron discipline and observation of social norms, for forty years he wasn't. On his deathbed, he left it to his wife to tell their children about his background. Bliss, his daughter and the author of this memoir, tracked down the story, locating southern relati As a young man, Anatole Broyard moved from Louisiana to New York City and found that in order to break into the very WASP world of 1950s publishing and literary work, he needed to not be a black man. So, thanks to Creole mixed features and iron discipline and observation of social norms, for forty years he wasn't. On his deathbed, he left it to his wife to tell their children about his background. Bliss, his daughter and the author of this memoir, tracked down the story, locating southern relatives who had taken the brunt of living as African-Americans in the civil rights struggle, and who had profoundly ambivalent feelings about Anatole--part pride in his accomplishments and acknowledgement that he had chosen a difficult path, part resentment that he had abandoned them and taken what to them was an easier path. The small incidents of casual racism and the petty power of bureaucrats permeates the lives of real people--an aunt in Louisiana married a white man and the old-lady county clerk made sure to write in colored on the form so that, a year later when the husband wanted a divorce, he got one easily with no alimony. This is also a meditation on decisions that parents make for themselves and for their children, sometimes with neither party really understanding what happened and why. Philip Roth may have based "The Human Stain" on Broyard, and this memoir pales in comparison, but it is the work of a daughter looking for answers, not a literary work.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Donna Lewis

    I read this book because I thought that the topic would be interesting. However, I did find that the heavy emphasis on the history of New Orleans, although interesting, was a bit tedious. I also had the feeling that the author was too caught up in trying to find her racial place. As evidenced by the Creole history of New Orleans, there are thousands of combinations of ethnicity and skin tone. It is a terrible history of this country that this caused such a division and such terrible injustices. I read this book because I thought that the topic would be interesting. However, I did find that the heavy emphasis on the history of New Orleans, although interesting, was a bit tedious. I also had the feeling that the author was too caught up in trying to find her racial place. As evidenced by the Creole history of New Orleans, there are thousands of combinations of ethnicity and skin tone. It is a terrible history of this country that this caused such a division and such terrible injustices. Reading about the killings and revolts and politics skewed against African Americans is horrifying. Seeing Black (and brown and tan) Americans struggle through the sixties to gain rights that should have been accorded all people taught me that there has always been injustice, with small incremental advances. I guess that a book like this is one more step in increasing the awareness of racism. Too many white Americans assume that racism is a thing of the past, whereas black Americans are aware of the continuing subtle residues of institutional racism. I think that it is a shame that people get caught up with deciding what their ethnic percentages are. But, most Americans should embrace the marvelous combinations that most people represent.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I was really fascinated by the premise of this book. A girl raised in an elitist white community in Connecticut finds out just before her father dies that he has been "passing" and is actually part black. This book addresses her struggle with this revelation, her confusion about her self identity, and the journey she makes to connect with long lost family members through copious amount of research. I have been meaning to read this book for years, but now that I have, I cannot recommend it. As ot I was really fascinated by the premise of this book. A girl raised in an elitist white community in Connecticut finds out just before her father dies that he has been "passing" and is actually part black. This book addresses her struggle with this revelation, her confusion about her self identity, and the journey she makes to connect with long lost family members through copious amount of research. I have been meaning to read this book for years, but now that I have, I cannot recommend it. As others have said, it is too long. I was really put off by the first hundred pages or so where Bliss sounds like the whiny elitist white girl that she is....a lot of "poor me" regarding her lack of self identity. She came off really annoying. It got better once she actually started telling the story of her family history, but even that got hard to read after awhile b/c it was way too detailed. I liked the last section of the book as she comes to better reconcile herself with what she has learned. Perhaps if this book was edited down to about half the length it would be an easier read? She would still seem annoying though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shawana

    I bought this book when it first came out and I was even more intrigued when Ms. Broyard's history was showcased during the PBS special. I think this book would have been more of a page- turner for me with less of the detailed colonial history. Those parts of the book did give a glimpse of the color-line struggles through the generations, but reading so much of their indecisiveness of who they were made them seem more weak than anything else. Throughout the middle of the memoir, we were given sn I bought this book when it first came out and I was even more intrigued when Ms. Broyard's history was showcased during the PBS special. I think this book would have been more of a page- turner for me with less of the detailed colonial history. Those parts of the book did give a glimpse of the color-line struggles through the generations, but reading so much of their indecisiveness of who they were made them seem more weak than anything else. Throughout the middle of the memoir, we were given snippets of Ms. Broyard and her father's metamorphosis, but we didn't get to know them or feel a real connection until the last section. I finish this book with more knowledge of her ancestors. I will admit I have no idea what it is like to have to choose a side that will not only affect me, but generations. I can empathize with the fact that this family had to pass in order to survive, but I guess I don't understand how behind closed doors you didn't acknowledge your history or pass down information to your children. If I had to take away one lesson from this family's story is no one should decide who you are, but if you aren't comfortable with you are, you can't lead by example.

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