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Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal…

Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History

by Danzy Senna

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I wanted the ending to turn out different than it did. One frustrating book. ( )
  Suzieqkc | Sep 16, 2010 |
I picked up this book because I liked its evocative title and because the review I read promised drama: the author’s parents“had the ugliest divorce in Boston’s history” at the end of their interracial marriage. Oddly, however, the book was muted and nondramatic. The author tries to figure out her heritage by tracing her genealogy. In Senna’s case, her mother’s family is well-documented; they were well-known Boston blue bloods (her description of their starchiness made me think I’d never fit in in Boston); her father’s family was African American and from the deep South. Senna’s grandmother Anna was particularly enigmatic; she left her children in an orphanage while she pursued higher education and a clandestine relationship with a Roman Catholic priest. Senna’s father grew up to be a gifted, yet embittered, abusive, alcoholic man. By the end of the book, however, we find out that he somehow did manage to turn his life around, has remarried and lives in Canada. Turns out there was lots of potential drama here, but in this telling, it is all rather flat, distant and uninvolving. Perhaps Senna should have written a novel about her family rather than a memoir. That way she could have filled in the blanks with her imagination and created a more satisfying book. ( )
  akblanchard | May 22, 2010 |
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A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it. --Zora Neale Hurston
To Percival
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In 1975 my mother left my father for the last time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374289158, Hardcover)

When Danzy Senna’s parents got married in 1968, they seemed poised to defy history. They were two brilliant 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. They married in a year that seemed to separate the past from the present; together, these two would snub the histories that divided them and embrace a radical future. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, it was, as one friend put it, “the ugliest divorce in Boston’s history”—a violent, traumatic war that felt all the more heartrending given the hopeful symbolism of their union.

Decades later, Senna looks back not only at her parents’ divorce but beyond it, to the opposing American histories that her parents had tried so hard to overcome. On her mother’s side of the family she finds—in carefully preserved documents—the chronicle of a white America both illustrious and shameful. On her father’s she discovers, through fragments and shreds of evidence, a no less remarkable history. As she digs deeper into this unwritten half of the story, she reconstructs a longburied family mystery that illuminates her own childhood. In the process, she begins to understand her difficult father, the power and failure of her parents’ union, and, finally, the forces of history.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? is at once a potent statement of personal identity, a challenging look at the murky waters of American ancestry, and an exploration of narratives—the narratives we create and those we forget. Senna has given us an unforgettable testimony to the paradoxes—the pain and the pride—embedded in history, family, and race.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:20 -0400)

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In her courageous portrait of the tumultuous union between her Boston Brahmin mother and her enigmatic black father, Danzy Senna offers a powerfully personal take on the progress of American race relations since the civil rights movement.

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