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Book Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History

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Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Danzy Senna(Author)

    Book details


When Danzy Senna's parents married in 1968, they seemed poised to defy history: two beautiful young American writers from wildly divergent backgrounds--a white woman with a blue-blood Bostonian lineage and a black man, the son of a struggling single mother and an unknown father. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, the violent, traumatic split felt all the more tragic for the hopeful symbolism it had once borne.

Decades later, Senna looks back not only at her parents' divorce but at the histories that they had tried so hard to overcome. In the tradition of James McBride's The Color of Water, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is "a stunningly rendered personal heritage that mirrors the complexities of race, class, and ethnicity in the United States" (Booklist).

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Book details

  • PDF | 200 pages
  • Danzy Senna(Author)
  • Farrar Straus Giroux; First Printing edition (12 May 2009)
  • English
  • 6
  • Biography

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Review Text

  • By Elizabeth G Melillo on 29 January 2010

    Danzy Senna's book contains two major and powerful themes. In exploring her family circumstances, she comes to a breadth of understanding of her parents' situations which frequently will colour one's adult perspective, and it is an expression of the steps one may take to reach maturity in troubled relationships. Secondly, and as she mentions from the beginning, Danzy has a peculiarly American obsession with race and surrounding issues. Her African-American heritage (and her seeming disappointment that it goes unrecognised, because it is undetectable in her appearance) is of great importance to her - and, sometimes with awareness of this, other times so subtly that I wondered if it was based on stereotypes that were blinders, her conclusions are based on an undeniable history of oppression, yet lock out individual choices, character traits, choices in love and the like.The reader discovers, on the first page, that Danzy's father was an alcoholic who had subjected her mother to great physical abuse. In the confusing, sometimes fascinating, tale of investigating ancestry which unfolds, Danzy's increased empathy for her father is clear - yet she seems to make too many allowances (ultimately) for the horrid background that seems the lot of "American Negroes" in the 1940s. Indeed, the circumstances of his life are often dismal, yet one wonders if the family members, particularly his mother, most of whom are extremely brilliant and gifted, can justify irresponsibility and abandonment on a basis of those of their race having been oppressed. This conclusion can be as unjust and, effectively, racist as the blatant discrimination of Carl's early life conditions.The book is a 'page turner' in that her parents, and such extended family members as are mentioned, have complex histories, mostly involving people who are outstanding in ability. The search for information about ancestry is fascinating because there is much confusion and ambiguity. Yet I found it unsatisfying because too much was based on ancestry - many of the conclusions are based on speculation, and those who would have the answers are (for the most part) long dead. One relationship (of which I'll withhold details lest they be a 'spoiler'), which led to the birth of several children, well could have been quite complex. Not knowing the perspectives or situations of those involved, to 'box' this as 'the white man has his black concubine', writing this off as a southern trend, seems too pat. This is underlined by the particular situations of the couple involved, and there is no allowance for that the (white) man may have had conflicts (which will be apparent) far beyond anything involving race. It also is questionable that either party's motives may be assumed based on prevalent attitudes towards race at the time - and there are factors, well beyond these, which could make it questionable whether the man's acknowledging the children as his own would have been to anyone's advantage at the time.Danzy's parents' early marriage indeed had been idealised by the media - in an era where an inter-racial union was unusual enough to be 'news' when prominent people were involved. Yet it seems she herself falls into a trap of focussing so on race that simple facts which could affect any life fall into obscurity. One striking example is when Danzy is involved with a man who also is of a 'mixed' racial background. Noticing that his parents have a happy marriage, in stark contrast to the misery and abuse of that of her own parents' short-lived union, Danzy is analysing whether it was because her friend's white parent is the male, or because he is Jewish rather than (agnostic) Anglo-Saxon - missing that any couple, regardless of similarity of background, may end up in love 'till death do us part' or divorced, and that presumably the husband in this relationship was not dragging his wife downstairs by the hair. Nor would I imagine Danzy's mother was the first wife in history to love a man who, when under the same roof, was physically abusive and totally irresponsible. Some of her father's qualities (intellectual, creative, very handsome, a free spirit in a time when this was valued more than now) must have been highly appealing, and many a bride or groom in love will not be aware of a dark side to a spouse beforehand. I hardly saw the constant analysing of relation to race, or of some inevitable fate which would draw her mother to marry a black man because of elements in her own family's history, as necessarily appropriate. Couldn't her parents simply have fallen in love?It is an interesting enough treatment of a search for 'roots' (a term the author herself employs) and the maturity to which one can grow in exploring parents' situations, but the focus appears to be too narrow. There isn't even the least awareness of a universal fact - that conditions under which any couple may fall in love seldom lend to analysis, but cannot be written off as inevitable because of generations of family history or causes.


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