Two months before he died of cancer, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown son and daughter to his side, to reveal a secret he had kept all their lives and most of his own: he was black. His daughter Bliss learned that her WASPy, privileged Connecticut childhood had come at a price. Ever since his own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and began to "pass" in order to get work, Anatole had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary élite, he maintained the façade. Now Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York and New Orleans, and considers the profound consequences of racial identity.--From publisher description.
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.
[book: 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.
I understand that the point of her father's passing as white was to be able to spoil her & give her the sheltered life she lived. But this book is far more useful for discussion topics than as an actual memoir.