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My Mother's Life
African-American writer Clarence Major explores the boundaries of identity, race, and colour in this autobiography of his mother, who passed as white without erasing her past as an African-American woman. In an exploration of family relationships, Major reveals her fears, victories, and the hidden price of her choice in a world that continued to set limits on her happiness.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Using his poet's eye for detail and his novelist's ear for speech, Major (who was shortlisted for a 1999 National Book Award for configurations) mutes his voice to create his mother's memoir. With authentic plainness, Inez - who is ""light, not white""- relates her journey to self-fulfillment through a world of demented racial complexity. ""In a country where a white woman could give birth to a black child but a black woman could not give birth to a white child,"" Inez lives a ""secret life as a white woman."" Issues of race (as she deals with the employment opportunities available to her only as a white woman) and issues of gender (as Inez deals with an abusive husband) occupy, by virtue of their social significance, the core of this skillfully written book. The rich details of growing up (school, games, friends, church) and of family life (courting, marriage, babies, dying) give Majors book particular vitality. Captured through the vision of one woman, ""interchangeably black or white"" in a time and place where she ""could not be both,"" Inez's memoir moves from plantation to segregation to migration. As one generation's smallpox becomes another's measles, as Aunt Saffrey's ""fancy horse-drawn buggy"" is outmoded by ""Pa's new Chevrolet;' as Inez moves from tiny Dublinville to the big city of Atlanta, a whole history of African-American life unfolds. Women readers will find Inez's resilience and perseverance inspirational. (May) Forecast: In academia, the study of"" passing"" (looking white without being white) is a longstanding favorite. Specialists and students in cultural studies and women's studies will want this book. (""Publishers Weekly,"" May 6, 2002)