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In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom (2016)

by Susan Faludi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Reading Susan Faludi's "In the Darkroom" reminded me of a good line that some critic had about Fred Leuchter, Jr. the creepy, fixated, and potentially oblivious the subject of the Errol Morris documentary "Mr. Death," "If this guy didn't exist, Errol Morris would have been forced to invent him." It probably says more about the book than the author, but it sometimes seems that every single subject and circumstance in "In the Darkroom" was specifically created so that Susan Faludi could write about it. And there's a lot of stuff in here: Faludi gets into gender and race and genocide and her comfortable suburban childhood and European history the history and theory of gender reassignment, Hungary's hard-right politics and its troubled historical memory, and German pastries. Miraculously, the life of the fromer István (and later Stéfanie) Faludi touched on all of these subjects to some extent, and thanks to her daughter's talents as a writer and reporter, it comes together beautifully. The result is a book that manages to be insightful about both historical tragedies and gender, human psychology and family drama.

"In the Darkroom" is, at least nominally, a book about identity: Faludi's father used to pride himself on the fact that being Hungarian meant that it was easy for him to "fake things" and "get away with it." As Hungarian Jews, his family walked a nervous line between acceptance and fear. He essentially purchased himself a hypermasculine identity in American suburbia in the mid twentieth century. The author spends considerable time trying, in essence, to drill down for enough to drill deep enough in her father's experience to hit some sort of solid, unalterable conceptual ground but keeps hitting unexpected evasions and empty spaces. Indeed, she readily admits that her own feminist and Jewish identities were born mostly about her fathers' silence on these topics. But while I enjoyed her description of the history and academic gender theory that currently underpins thinking about transsexuals and transsexuality and found her criticisms cogent, but after finishing it I wondered if "In the Darkroom" wasn't an exploration of the long-term effects of trauma. From her father's comfortable if emotionally deprived childhood, his terrifying experiences in wartime Budapest, to the sadness and rootlessness that followed the war, the same sort of hurt kept reverberating through István/Stefánie's life and, by proxy, his daugher's and his widely scattered descendants. On both a personal and societal level, the effects of trauma, Faludi seems to be telling us, run very deep and play out over a long time.

As good as this one is, I might have docked it half a star not because of its author but because of its subject. The author's parent is likable neither as a man or as a woman: talented but angry, emotionally distant, controlling and overbearing and occasionally violent, and one of those old-school European high culture snobs to boot. I suspect he (and later, of course, she) will drive off more than a few readers well before they arrive to the final pages of "In the Darkroom". I grew tired of him myself, feeling, perhaps, a bit of the defensiveness and uneasiness that the author often seems to have when she was around him. She maintains a professional journalistic silence about her opinions on his decision to alter his gender, but his likely wasn't a typical transition story, and the experience may not have affected him in exactly the ways that he wished it would. Susan, to her credit, plumbs deep into her father's experience, but almost to the end, he remains more invested in performance and image than sincerity and truth and an unpleasant, if sometimes formidable, figure. I can call "In the Darkroom" extremely recommendable book, but also found it to be a sad and frustrating reading experience. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Jan 31, 2019 |
The historical parts - what her father experienced in the WWII etc... - were really interesting but, man, there was a lot of extra chit chat about totally... gossipy family tidbits - makes the book a lot of reading for the value. Weeeelllll, I suppose memoir readers will like that but history lovers may not. I'm in for the history and i still recommend the book because the historical pieces are so interesting. The author writes well so it wasn't too painful to listen to the other parts. ( )
  marshapetry | Dec 8, 2018 |
This book has to be one of the most unusual biographies/memoirs I’ve ever read. It’s the story of the author’s father, Istvan (or Steven as he was known in America) Faludi, who announces quite suddenly in 2004 that he’s undergone male-to-female reassignment surgery in Thailand. Steven was an enigmatic, distant and sometimes violent figure in his daughter’s life; now as Stefani she is a real puzzle. (It took while for me to get used to seeing female pronouns used with “my father.”). The author approaches her father as the journalist she is, deciding to learn what she can about his life and writing about it.

After moving to the United States after World War II and becoming a naturalized citizen, Steven made his living as a photo wizard, using darkroom techniques to improve and/or alter photographs for American magazines. He was also a photographer and cinematographer. After he and his wife divorced, he returned to his native Hungary and it’s in Budapest that most of the interaction between the author and her father takes place.

“If you mother says she loves you, check it out” is a well-worn adage in newspaper work. It’s a reminder that, regardless of who the source is, a dogged journalist must probe further. Journalist Susan Faludi checks out her father’s stories to see if there’s any truth in them.

To tell her father’s larger story, the author weaves in a lot of Magyar and Hungarian history, along with stories of her father’s war years as a Jewish boy trying to avoid the death camps. I have a feeling most readers won’t find Magyar history too interesting, but since that is my ancestry, I found it fascinating (if often unflattering to Hungarians).

In the Darkroom is not a quick read, but quite enjoyable; the writing is wonderful, with a dry sense of humor evident. ( )
  NewsieQ | May 30, 2018 |
Susan Faludi was mostly estranged from her father, when, in 2004, she received an email informing her that her father had, at age 76, had gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, and was now Stefani. This was not the first name change for the former Steven Faludi, who had been born Istvan Friedman, but changed the last name to a more Hungarian and less Jewish sounding name. Susan had grown up in the US, and knew only stories about how her father had survived WWII and had come to the US. Susan Faludi had been a teen when her parents divorces, and had had only sporadic contact with her father after that.

Susan flew to Hungary, where her father was living, and spent the next ten years re-connecting with Stefani. It was not an easy process. Early in the process she ruminates:

"What was I doing here? She seemed to be the same old impenetrable, walled-off person he had always been. As far as I could tell, becoming a woman had only added a barricade, another false front to hide behind. Every road to the interior was blocked by a cardboard cutout of florid femininity, a happy housewife who couldn't wait to get "back to the kitchen," a peasant girl doing the two step in a Photoshopped dirndl."

In the beginning of the book, Stefani seems a very self-centered person, who wants to communicate with her daughter, but only on her terms, and avoiding huge swaths of conversational topics. In particualr, Stefani is conflicted about her Jewish identity and about antisemitism in Hungary. Faludi intersperses personal stories with research into transgender issues and Hungarian history. This technique is a little choppy at times, but over-all, it works. As the book evolves, the relationship between father and daughter deepens.

In one of my favorite scenes, the two dance in a Disco party in an abandoned factory in Budapest.

"My father and I circled around each other for a few minutes. Then I put out my hand and she took it. I couldn't teach her the "female steps" to a Viennese waltz, but I'd done my time in New York's limelight. I knew what to do with Michael Jackson. I led her through a few moves and soon we were swinging each other around. It occurred to me that I hadn't danced like this in ages. It occurred to me that I was having a good time.
...I looked back at my father. She was grinning and not that anxious half-grin she so often had on her face. I held up my arm and she twirled underneath like a pro." ( )
  banjo123 | May 13, 2017 |
I picked this book to read for two reasons. One it was on an end of the year best books to read for 2016. Secondly, I wanted to read on a subject that I don't agree with. The book started slow for me because I found myself on guard for the author slipping in some kind of justification for the lifestyle without a critical review. Susan Faludi wrote in a way that I found excellent. Estranged from her father for more than 20 years, she had many reasons for not accepting him and his new lifestyle. She seems to come to some kind of resolution, although strained, at the end of the book (her father's death). It was emotional and true to many experiences I am aware of - parents dying and dementia. I read a critical review of the book and the thesis Susanhas about why the change in identity from male to female has been explored before. I remember the reviewer saying she broke no new ground in that respect. But on the one on one, personal level, the book is a great read. I'd recommend it. Once you read the book, the title is all the more a good one. ( )
  KevinKLF | Jan 29, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Faludiprimary authorall editionscalculated
André, EmeliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080508908X, Hardcover)

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author of Backlash, an astonishing confrontation with the enigma of her father and the larger riddle of identity consuming our age.

“In the summer of 2004 I set out to investigate someone I scarcely knew, my father. The project began with a grievance, the grievance of a daughter whose parent had absconded from her life. I was in pursuit of a scofflaw, an artful dodger who had skipped out on so many things―obligation, affection, culpability, contrition. I was preparing an indictment, amassing discovery for a trial. But somewhere along the line, the prosecutor became a witness.”

So begins Susan Faludi’s extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of identity in the modern world and in her own haunted family saga. When the feminist writer learned that her 76-year-old father―long estranged and living in Hungary―had undergone sex reassignment surgery, that investigation would turn personal and urgent. How was this new parent who claimed to be “a complete woman now” connected to the silent, explosive, and ultimately violent father she had known, the photographer who’d built his career on the alteration of images?

Faludi chases that mystery into the recesses of her suburban childhood and her father’s many previous incarnations: American dad, Alpine mountaineer, swashbuckling adventurer in the Amazon outback, Jewish fugitive in Holocaust Budapest. When the author travels to Hungary to reunite with her father, she drops into a labyrinth of dark histories and dangerous politics in a country hell-bent on repressing its past and constructing a fanciful―and virulent―nationhood. The search for identity that has transfixed our century was proving as treacherous for nations as for individuals.

Faludi’s struggle to come to grips with her father’s reinvented self takes her across borders―historical, political, religious, sexual--to bring her face to face with the question of the age: Is identity something you “choose,” or is it the very thing you can’t escape?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 May 2016 21:50:53 -0400)

Journalist Susan Faludi's inquiry into the meaning of identity in the modern world and in her own haunted family saga, involving her 76-year-old father--long estranged and living in Hungary--who underwent sex reassignment surgery.

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