cover image One Drop: A True Story of Family, Race, and Secrets

One Drop: A True Story of Family, Race, and Secrets

Bliss Broyard, . . Little, Brown, $24.99 (514pp) ISBN 978-0-316-16350-7

For Broyard, who was “raised as white in Connecticut,” the discovery that her father, the writer and critic Anatole Broyard, “wasn’t exactly white” raised the question of “how black I was”—a question that set her in search of the history of “the most well-known defector from the black race in the latter half of the twentieth century.” In the first section, Broyard weaves her privileged childhood together with later travels to New Orleans (her father’s birthplace) and Los Angeles (where there is a determinedly white set of Broyards as well as a determinedly black set). Part two extends from the first Broyard, a Frenchman arriving in mid-18th century Louisiana territory, to six-year-old Anatole’s 1927 arrival in Brooklyn. The last section is devoted to Anatole’s life. Broyard’s “identity quest” takes her on an odyssey through social, military, legal, Louisiana and general American history, as well as U.S. race relations and her family DNA, introducing innumerable relatives, classmates, friends and employers, and making for a rather overstuffed account. Fortunately, she’s got an ear for dialogue, an eye for place and a storyteller’s pacing. But the most compelling element is her ambivalent tenor: “Was my father’s choice rooted in self-preservation or in self-hatred?... Was he a hero or a cad?” Part eulogy, part apologia, the answer is indirect: “But he was my dad and we loved each other.” (Sept.)