Catherine's Reviews > Black White and Jewish

Black White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker
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's review
Aug 05, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: fp, 2008, nonwhite_us, judaism
Read in September, 2008

I liked the beginning of this book less than I'd hoped to, and the end much more than the beginning led me to believe I would. Confusing, perhaps.

After reading Walker's Baby Love, and the record of her relationship with her mother falling apart so spectacularly, I wanted to read the book that was - for Alice - a large part of the cause. In the end, the Alice here is not the dragon I had expected to read about. She's withdrawn and self-controlled and there are glimpses of her depression, but she seems cold only when provoked by outsiders who are racist jerks. I wonder if what Alice objected to was the lack of meaningful talk about her work - a work that, in Rebecca's autobiography, is simply 'out there', being done, requiring book tours from time to time; not something explored or necessarily valued. But then I'm not sure that any child necessarily would understand what writer is, was, and can be?

The beginning of the book is so painfully self conscious about its literary worth that it was hard to gain traction with the story for the beautifully - painfully - careful construction of every phrase. There's a large gap between that prose and the childhood Rebecca describes, a dissonance I couldn't quite bridge. By the end of the book, the language matches the person described, and I felt more comfortable, invited in, sympathetic. Whether that was simply a result of feeling at home with the book, or the style, or the new subjects introduced, I can't exactly say. But the end is definitely worth the rest of the read.

I wish there'd been more analysis, more stepping back, more adult Rebecca present in the early chapters where she looked back on her life. I wanted her to tell her what Judaism really meant in her family, how her family honored being black, and there are glimpses of this, but nothing long and engaging. Again, this may be a question of me analyzing the book she didn't write rather than the one she did - especially as the end is avowedly analytical. I'm glad I read this, but feel left with no more real understanding of Rebecca's experience of being black, white, and Jewish than when I began.
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