Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging

Alex Wagner. One World, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-812997-94-1
A mixed-race woman unearths the gnarled roots of her family tree in this ruminative exploration of ethnicity and identity. CBS News anchor Wagner, daughter of a Burmese immigrant mother and an Irish-Luxembourgian-American father from Iowa, recounts a genealogical voyage through Burma, Europe, and the internet that shook her understanding of family history. On her mother’s side, she discovered troubling threads: a Burmese forebear played a significant role in a farm-credit scheme that failed catastrophically, and her beloved grandmother, an exiled pro-democracy activist, casually shared the anti-Indian racism that sparked bloody riots in Rangoon. Her grandmother also proudly supported the nationalist tradition of Nobel laureate and Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who was nevertheless enmeshed in a violent xenophobia that continues in today’s ethnic cleansing of Burma’s Rohingya minority. Wagner’s white paternal line yields less dramatic material, and her attempts to spice it up with an imagined secret Jewish heritage and a hypothetical smuggling narrative feel strained. Along the way, she navigates sinister archival bureaucracies and plunges into the sometimes dubious world of DNA ancestry tests (one of which claimed that she had twice as much Scandinavian DNA as her father). Wagner’s odyssey is an effective riposte to anti-immigrant politics in what she sees as a mixed-race—or “futureface”—world. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/05/2018
Release date: 03/13/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-525-49452-2
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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