cover image My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir

My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir

Mark Whitaker. Simon & Schuster, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4516-2754-1

An unhappy interracial family fissures along unique fault lines in this poignant memoir. Whitaker, executive v-p of CNN Worldwide, recounts the risky marriage, bitter divorce, and subsequent discontents of his father, Syl Whitaker, a grandson of slaves who became a prominent African studies scholar, and his mother, Jeanne Theis, a white refugee from WWII Nazi-occupied France whose father helped rescue Jews. The story is dominated by Syl, a charming, charismatic man whose infidelities destroyed his marriage and whose alcoholism sabotaged a brilliant academic career; Jeanne's withdrawn anguish and the author's search for identity%E2%80%94his portraits of the African-American and French sides of his family are warm and vivid%E2%80%94are a counterpoint to his saga of dysfunction and partial recovery. Whitaker is unsparing in his account of his father's sins and the scars they inflicted%E2%80%94even after he quits drinking, Syl is still temperamental, manipulative, and self-centered%E2%80%94but the author filters his profile through a rich reflection and understanding. Like Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, Whitaker's memoir is in many ways an iconic story of the post%E2%80%93civil rights era, one in which transcending racial barriers liberates people to succeed%E2%80%94and fail%E2%80%94in their own peculiar ways. Photos. (Oct.)