As she has amply proven throughout her distinguished career, Brown (Civil War; Before and After) tackles timeless, yet timely, moral issues with the insight and gravity of one who has been on the frontlines of social change. Here she returns to the civil rights era in a gripping novel tracing the lives of several people who participated in that struggle and continue to live in its shadow. In the 1960s, when Jewish graduate student Miriam Starobin went from Texas to Mississippi to teach history at an all-Black college, she had an affair with charismatic African-American music professor Eljay Reece. Their relationship ended acrimoniously after Miriam gave birth to their daughter, Veronica, and Eljay claimed the child and drove Miriam out of their lives. Now, 17 years later, in what at first seems a miraculous fulfillment of her hopes, Miriam gets a letter from her daughter Ronnee, on her way to Stanford on a scholarship. Miriam, married to successful physician Barry Vener, mother of three, and resident of an opulent Houston suburb, has kept Ronnee's existence a secret, and she does not realize how difficult it will be to acknowledge this biracial young woman as her daughter. The strains in their wary relationship are exacerbated by latent racism among Miriam's family and friends, and the overt bigotry of the larger world. Meanwhile, Ronnee is pursuing her own secret agenda. Raised by her father to be tough, pragmatic and manipulative--and to consider herself black-- Ronnee sees Miriam not as a cherished parent but as a cash cow whose money will augment her scholarship. Yet she is also a typical teenager, affectingly credible in her desire to be accepted by her peers. Always a master of plotting, Brown brings events to a suspenseful climax through a nightmarish situation and its shattering aftermath. The narrative is most convincing in its psychological truths, depicting the challenges that both women must surmount: Miriam in leaving the safe harbor of upper-middle-class conformity, Ronnee in relinquishing her self-protective defenses and recognizing the part of herself that is a member of a white Jewish family. Provocative questions of moral, social and familial responsibility, of racial relationships, and of the claims of history on individual identity, keep surfacing in this fiercely candid novel, surely one of Brown's most challenging, intelligent and masterful accomplishments. 75,000 first printing; BOMC featured alternate; audio rights to Simon & Schuster Audio; 10-city author tour. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000 Release date: 05/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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