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In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom (2016)

by Susan Faludi

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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 |
I thought at first this book was just about Faludi's dad's M-F sexual reassignment, but it ends up being so much more. This is about a man who rejects one gender for another, who is completely dedicated to the idea of family yet rejects all his actual family members, who was born a Jew yet spent years listening to and loving Christian spiritual music and right wing Christian evangelical preachers and to top it off leaves the US to reestablish himself in Hungary, the most right-wing, antisemitic country in the European Union. He performed actual acts of heroism saving members of his family during the holocaust yet considered himself 100% Hungarian and defended the hard right government, making light of its blatant antisemitism.
She shows how before WWI Jews in Hungary were in perhaps the best position they were anywhere in the world, but after WWI they became scapegoats to the point that the Hungarian government pushed the Germans to persecute Jews even more than they were doing and to deport them more and faster. What is relevant to our political situation is that the hard right politicians who took over modern Hungary were vehemently anti-immigrant, to the extent of building border fences, they placed wording in the constitution affirming that life begins at conception, they blamed Jews for all the country's problems - and the more blatant they were in their oppression of the rights of all, the more popular they became. However, in response to declining world opinion, as a public relations stunt, they declared 2014 the year of Holocaust remembrance and erected a statue commemorating Hungary's occupation by Germany. It ended up being a replica of the archangel Michael being oppressed by Nazis, and when Jews tried to counter by showing broken eye glasses and suitcases of those who were deported to concentration camps, they removed the display.
While I'm at it let me state one interesting bit of antisemitism I learned. I've always heard of blood libel, but I could never figure out why it is that Jews would want to ingest the blood of gentiles. Then I learned that there is a theory of race and sexuality that says that Germans are a very masculine race while Jews are essentially feminine. The most masculine Jewish man could be mistaken for a woman. Being so effeminate, Jews are prone to reproductive weakness, also, since the death of Christ, Jewish men have menstruated. So Jews eat or drink the blood of gentiles or smear it on their and their children's bodies in order to improve their fertility. No idea is too crazy for people to believe if they are inspired enough by hate to do so. ( )
1 vote Citizenjoyce | Jan 29, 2017 |
After the author’s parent’s split up when she was a teen, she saw little of her father. When she got an email from him when he was 76 years old, he had a surprise for her: he had had Sexual Reassignment Surgery and was now a woman- Steven Faludi was now Stefanie. She wanted her daughter to come visit her. While Susan was ready to find out more about her father’s life, she wasn’t ready to forgive her for how she’d treated her mother and herself, which was what her father was really after.

Stefi was born in Hungary under another name. Her parents were upper middle class Jews, but Germany invaded, different political factions ran the country, and they lost everything. She escaped, and as far as Susan knew, never had contact with her family again. She came to America, married, and played the suburban father of the era, building things in the basement. When the marriage fell apart, she kicked the door down and attacked the man Susan’s mother was seeing. Things didn’t get any better after that.

Susan heads for Hungary, expecting her father to ask for forgiveness for her absence from her life. That’s not what Stefi has in mind, though. First Stefi wants to share her wardrobe with Susan! But a connection is made, and Susan spends the next few years visiting her father in Hungary. At a glacial pace over the years, Stefi reveals her past. Escaping Nazis and anti-Semitic Hungarian governments through Germany, Demark, Brazil, and finally the USA, she reinvented herself with every move. She boasted about knowing how to fake things. A macho outdoorsman, a Christian, a suburban dad, a gifted photographer and artist with photo retouching. A man. Did she fully inhabit any of these roles, or were they all play acting? Did the fact that she was trapped in a male body make it impossible for her to feel completely comfortable in any of her younger roles? Would she have been a better parent and spouse if she had lived in a female body? Given the late date of her SRS, the trans part of Stefi’s story is a very small part, although it’s the part stressed on the book jacket.

While Susan learns a great deal about her father’s past, it’s not until after Stefi is dead that Susan finds out that there was still a great deal to discover. It’s a fascinating story about identity and family secrets. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Sep 28, 2016 |
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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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