When I Was White: A Memoir

Sarah Valentine. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-14675-5
In this fervent and heartfelt memoir, Valentine, an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University, tells of coming-of-age in Pittsburgh, Pa., as the daughter of two white parents who refused to acknowledge an ethnicity hinted at by her appearance, and a family secret.. Her mother and business consultant father were married in the 1970s when Valentine was born, and she describes an ordinary childhood in a loving family of Italian and Irish descent. Early on, she clues in that she is “different” and even though her parents avoid the topic of race, others make note of her darker skin color (for instance, a school guidance counselor suggests she apply for a minority scholarship). Valentine attends Carnegie Mellon University, and at age 27 she presses her mother on the details of her past; her mother claims she was raped at a college party by an unknown black man (though her recollection is vague). The narrative moves fluidly between past and present as Valentine tries to make sense of the lies and misconceptions that have plagued her throughout her life. Beset with conflicting emotions and a sense of betrayal, Valentine begins a futile search to locate her biological father, and the revelation of Valentine’s conception (later confirmed by a DNA test that revealed 45% sub-Saharan African) will be simultaneously startling and yet expected to the reader. This is a disturbing and engrossing tale of deep family secrets. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 04/05/2019
Release date: 08/06/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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