Christine's Reviews > Family Tree

Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky
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Feb 26, 08

bookshelves: general-mainstream-fiction
Recommended to Christine by: book club
Recommended for: No one
Read in February, 2008

This book was bad on so many levels, I'm not sure where to begin. The characters were flat, unsympathetic, and completely stereotypical. (A bit ironic, given that I *think* the point was an observation of race relations and perceptions.) The writing was ok at best, with the dialog often coming across as forced. The plot was completely unbelievable from page 1 to the end.

I don't give books such scathing reviews lightly, so let me delve into some details...

I'm afraid I was completely unable to suspend disbelief while reading this book. Beginning with the first chapter, in which a woman's water has broken and they linger for a very long time before getting around to leaving for the hospital.

I did try to set that minor point aside when we got to the punch line -- this lily white couple has given birth to an African American baby, complete with curly black hair and brown skin. I did understand that the point of the book was that there had been no affair and that hidden African traits had come together to create this highly improbable baby, but when the idea that the woman had cheated barely came up, I lost all faith in the book.

I am not convinced that it's possible for this genetic pairing to come up. I could find no precedent (although plenty of mixed and black couples have had white babies) save terrible fertility clinic swaps. There does seem to be one case in South Africa where a darker skinned child of a white couple was caught up in the racism there, but in that case the genes came from both parents and she did not also have the traditional hair, which is a separate gene (probably more than one separate gene...I did learn that skin color is based on 7 different genes and that it is one of those traits that blend rather than having one gene express itself while the other lies dormant).

This novel tries to suggest that after 3 generations and with no help from the other parent, a baby might suddenly come up with brown skin and curly African hair.

At best, this is so utterly improbable that the first question should logically be: Did she cheat?

It wasn't for most of the characters in this book and I just didn't buy that. I don't care how good and pure this woman was, in real life there is no omniscient narrator to tell us what's inside someone else's head and heart. The odds of someone not being who we thought they were are a million times higher than the odds of several genes (these features would take more than one) suddenly springing to life without pairing up.

I may even have tried to suspend disbelief about the genetics part had the woman been alone in her knowledge that she did not cheat while she sustained cruel ridicule and accusations from everyone. Maybe...it's still awfully hard to swallow. :=)

There is eventually a paternity test, but only because the baby's father is influenced by his family to get one. These stereotypical rich people are the only ones who seem inclined to believe the woman may have cheated. The father himself never really believes that his wife has cheated, although he has a moment.

The mother's family and friends are instantly accepting of the situation. They were not racists or bigots.

The father's wealthy family and friends were instantly judgmental. They were racists and bigots.

Awfully black and white for me.

And, if all that isn't bad enough, I found myself actually looking up whether or not this author had ever had a baby. The mother's grandmother is injured and with a one-week-old baby, she takes her place at a family-owned shop. The baby just lies in a cradle between feedings. The feedings themselves don't seem to take much time or effort. I don't know...I admit that I haven't met all the babies in the world to know if there are any who would do that, but that experience is so radically different from my own newborn experience (which was just 2 years ago) that I occasionally found myself yelling at the book.

The entire newborn experience was off, especially for a first time mom. Sleep deprivation barely came up and didn't seem to have any impact on the characters or plot.

If I had not been reading this book for a book club, I would not have finished it.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather An African couple had a completely white baby recently. It has blue eyes, blond hair, but African features. It is possible, just not common.


Christine African couples can have white babies. White couples cannot have black babies. The reason has to do with the way skin color is genetically determined and the general dominance of darker colors. Many Africans, especially those living in the western hemisphere or Europe, have had white ancestry. (This is why their coloring isn't the dark, dark black you see on the African continent.) Rarely, two black parents' genes can blend in such a way that only the white is passed on.

On the other hand, if a white person has any black in his DNA to pass onto a baby, it will be visible on his own skin, at least in a blended way.

I did some research on this and found quite a few instances of black couples having white babies -- even one pretty dark-skinned couple who seriously beat the odds by having a second baby come out that way! But I challenge you to find an example of what happened in this book happening in real life. Seriously, I'm open-minded about these things. I was open-minded enough to do several hours of research on it before I posted that review. If you can prove me wrong, I will write a retraction.


message 3: by Heather (new)

Heather I was referring to the Nigerian couple. They have no white ancestry, and if darker skin is dominant then how did that happen? I heard that the highest regarded geneticists in the world don't even have the answer.


message 4: by rivka (new)

rivka Heather wrote: "if darker skin is dominant then how did that happen?"

The same way that two brown-eyed, brown-haired parents can have a blue-eyed, blond-haired child. It is only recessive genes that can "hide" -- by definition, dominant genes are expressed if present.


Christine They have no white ancestry, ....that they know about.

Recessive genes can hide. I've got a recessive eye condition that no one in my family (as far as I know) has ever had. For all I know, they really never have had it. It could have been a mutation just hiding in the DNA all along, waiting for the right match to bring it to life.

Dominant genes can't hide. Two natural blondes will not have a dark-haired child, although a blonde child might shot up in a family that hasn't (in their memory) ever had a natural blonde in it.


message 6: by rivka (new)

rivka Indeed. I had a HS classmate who is a blue-eyed blonde, born to brown/brown parents, grandparents, and great-grands. (That's as far back as they know eye/hair color for sure.) All her siblings were brown/brown too, and they made jokes about the mailman . . . until her youngest brother, also blue/blond, was born. In a city across the country from where she was born.

Now they make jokes about traveling salesmen. :D


message 7: by Heartofkenna (new)

Heartofkenna Thanks for saving me the trouble of reading this book, I enjoyed your review!


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