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Ancestor trouble : a reckoning and a reconciliation
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Library Journal Review
How deep do genetic roots penetrate into an individual's day-to-day life? To answer this question, Newton's debut memoir intermingles her own history and her extensive research in ancestry and genealogy, in a quest to uncover her ancestral path with an eye towards changing the family narrative. She grapples with the somber side of her roots in the Deep South of the United States, including a cycle of traumatic relationships that stubbornly repeats itself against the odds. Newton's study of the histories of genealogy and genetic testing views these tools through a critical lens to reveal how they have been used to maintain a white-supremacist status quo, even as they can also be genuinely helpful for discovering one's background. Newton references recent literature, including works by Morgan Jenkins and Alexander Chee, in her attempt to uncover the different ways in which humans relate to family and historical records, and to answer the question of what our ancestry says about us. VERDICT An engaging and thoroughly researched memoir relaying a family history that is at turns recognizable and abhorrent, as an honest and typical history of American exceptionalism, racism, and misogyny. Will appealing to lovers of memoirs, family secrets, genealogy, and the sociological makeup threading U.S. history.--Kelly Karst
Publishers Weekly Review
Newton debuts with a masterful mix of memoir and cultural criticism that wrestles with America's ancestry through her own family's complex past. While it's often "cast as a narcissistic Western peculiarity," she argues that "ancestor hunger circles the globe" as people have increasingly begun to search for "a deeper sense of community, less 'I' and more 'we.' " Newton, though, was raised on fanciful stories of her relatives--including a grandfather with 13 ex-wives, and her great-aunt Maude (the inspiration behind Newton's writing pseudonym), who died young in an institution--and tales of murder, witchcraft, and spiritual superstition, all of which she interrogates here with a shrewd eye. As she "search backward" through her family's history in an effort to find redemption and healing, she contextualizes their stories within the nation's history of white supremacy and religious fundamentalism (her mother was a fervent evangelical who believed their "forebears had sinned in such a way as to open the door to a generational curse"). Most affecting is her rendering of her complicated relationship with her father and his own "racist bloodline," likening her existence to "a kind of homegrown eugenics project." The result is a transfixing meditation on the inextricable ways the past informs the present. Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (Mar.)
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