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 speak their own language, yet Birdie, with her light skin and straight hair, is often mistaken for white, while Cole is dark enough to fit in with the other kids at school. Despite their differences, Cole is Birdie’s confidant, her protector, the mirror by which she understands herself. Then their parents’ marriage collapses. One night Birdie watches her father and his new girlfriend drive away with Cole. Soon Birdie and her mother are on the road as well, drifting across the country in search of a new home. But for Birdie, home will always be Cole. Haunted by the loss of her sister, she sets out a desperate search for the family that left her behind.
The extraordinary national bestseller that launched Danzy Senna’s literary career,
Caucasia is a modern classic, at once a powerful coming of age story and a
groundbreaking work on identity and race in America.
About Danzy Senna
Danzy Senna is an American novelist and essayist. She is the author of five books and numerous essays centering on issues of gender, race and motherhood, including her first novel, Caucasia, a national bestseller, and her most recent novel, New People, named by Time magazine as one of the Top Ten Novels of the year. (Wikipedia)
Reader's Thoughts - Sophia Kim
Delving into Caucasia, I braced myself for heavy topics about race and racism not only because of its title but its cover. It was a gripping story that resonated deep within me. Regardless of whether you are biracial (like the main character, Birdie) or not, it resonates with those who have never felt they could “fit in” because of their race.
This book drew the reader back into the 1970’s-80’s where the nation was politically and socially divided by race. The story is told by our narrator Birdie who’s mother Sandy is white while her father Deck is black. Birdie inherits more of her mother’s features and is most often mistaken as white because of her lighter skin and straight hair. However, her older sister Cole inherits their father’s features of curly hair and darker skin. The sisters are very close and by using such familial structures this book was able to touch on family as well. That is the basis of the synopsis however without spoiling I will leave it at that.
The delicate topics were so gracefully handled. The language was beautiful and although at times hard to understand it created a lasting impact on me with the characters and the different stories each character told.
Birdie's voice in particular was so raw. As a young girl experiencing racial curiosity and a division in not only society but her family, she is forced to witness the impacts of having different skin tones. Her emotions are very well written and expressed and makes the story/plot more tangible and everlasting, while we as the reader’s can witness her growth through age and as a person.
The author, Danzy Senna, is very similar to Birdie. She is also biracial and has been considered white passing. As such it is no wonder, Birdie’s emotions are so vivid. Caucasia was Danzy Senna’s first novel and as of present some of her works have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, and The Atlantic.
One of my favorite quotes from the book is as follows. Although you may not have read the book, it is a quote that even without any prior knowledge of its context, it is able to stir something inside.
“He began to talk about the fact that race was not only a construct but a scientific error along the magnitude of the error that the world was flat. . . 'And when they discover their mistake, I mean, truly discover it, it'll be as big as when they learned the world was, in fact, round. It'll open up a whole new world. And nothing will ever be the same.’”
-Danzy Senna, Caucasia