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In the Darkroom (2016)

by Susan Faludi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3951655,879 (3.96)21
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 identified as "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 metamorphosis 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?… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
A remarkable exploration of identity - gender, national, religious and other.

What are the chances that the father of a noted feminist scholar will decide to fly to Thailand for gender reassignment surgeries? That she will do so skipping over the psychiatric and medical therapies that typically precede surgery? That she will do so without sharing her gender dysmorphia, or her surgical plan with anyone in advance? And if you are a feminist scholar how do you respond when your father embraces a binary view of gender, declares that she is a woman and then behaves in accord with ridiculous stereotypes about what it means to be a woman, being submissive and matching your shoes to your purse and waiting for men to open doors? These things are of course entirely performative and have nothing to do with what it means to be a woman. But that leads to the question "what does it mean to be a woman?"

It turns out though that this is only the very tip of the iceberg in this exploration of identity. Faludi's father was a Hungarian Jew in the 1930's and 40's. He hid by passing as a member of what was essentially the Hungarian Gestapo while his neighbors and classmates were murdered all around him. Faludi's father then fled, first to Brazil and then to the US, and decided he was not a Jew. He immersed himself in regular listening to all the 1970s and 80's televangelists, placing the biggest star on the block on the family's Christmas tree right in the front window of their home. And then Faludi's father, in his later years after his divorce, returned to his native Hungary. After a time went to Thailand and had MtF gender conforming surgeries and began identifying female. She then returned to Hungary where she disparaged Jews and supported a far right anti-semetic and anti-LGBTQ+ strongmen. She proclaimed often and intensely that she was not a Jew she was a Hungarian and she was not trans she was a woman. After all her paperwork says so. Faludi's journey, amidst all of this, to explore the meaning and structure of identity is illuminating and fascinating.

Faludi does this while also navigating her identity as a daughter to this very difficult parent. Stephanie is narcististic and cruel, likely dealing with PTSD (which she denies.) She walks all over everyone. She also abused Faludi's mother and tried to stab to death her mother's boyfriend (they were long separated and embroiled in a a protracted divorce.) It is a lot to unpack, but Faludi does it masterfully. She explores the personal while also keeping the narrative focused on the larger truths and lessons. There is a good deal of discussion of Erik Erikson's theory (he himself a self-denying Jew who changed his name to the most Aryan possible construction) that when we feel the loss of identity we are drawn to things certain and brutal, that we build new identity around pegs like racism and anti-Semitism. (In the book this discussion is focused on Hungary, but it applies everywhere and it resonated with me, especially in light of the 2016 election, Charlottesville, and the coup attempt on the Capitol.)

I recommend this book for everyone. It is truly extraordinary, and provides a structure to think about that most universal of subjective truths, identity, ( )
  Narshkite | Jan 5, 2022 |
One day, out of the blue, journalist Susan Faludi received an email from her estranged father, coyly announcing that he had gone to Thailand and had a sex-change operation. He was now Stefanie. How this squared with the macho mountain climber, wood worker, and explosively angry parent she had known was a question that drove her to fly to Hungary, where her father had repatriated himself after years in the U.S., to find out exactly who this person was.

Over the years, as she investigates her newly created parent, we learn about her life, her father's life during and after WWII, the history of Hungary, her parents' marriage, a somewhat surprisingly far-flung and never-met collection of relatives, and the state of Hungary under Viktor Orban, which continues today.

Faludi accepts her father's change, and refers to her father using the feminine pronouns throughout the book, which sometimes can create reader dissonance. Finally she resorts to introducing Stefanie as her mother. But she never questions his decision. Rather, she reports what she can, what he is willing to tell her, show her, or let her deduce.

In some ways this is an intimate story, but Susan's father keeps her such a teasing distance, tells such contradictory stories, that she and we her readers are indeed in the darkroom, hoping a recognizable picture emerges. What we do find out about her father and his family, and about Hungary, is well worth the exploration. ( )
  ffortsa | Nov 5, 2021 |
I bought this book knowing that it was a memoir about Faludi's father's transition to being a woman and their estranged relationship.

it's about much more than that: It's the story of identity, and how Ístvan Friedman, son of wealthy Budapest Jews, becomes Steven Faludi, American husband and father, and then Stéfanie Faludi, returned Hungarian. Faludi examines issues of gender, religion, nationality, and war to see how her father constructed his own identity, and at a remove, her own.

I have to specifically recommend this as a Jewish book, as much as anything to do with gender. The path of her family and their place in Hungary is fascinating. ( )
  arosoff | Jul 11, 2021 |
In an engaging style, Faludi tells the story of how her relationship with her father develops over time as they both change and as Faludi discovers new facets of her father's life and personality. After reading for what felt like a short time, I would look up from the book and be surprised that I'd read as far as I had. That usually only happens to me with fiction. It was a little difficult to tell the chronology of events sometimes, and there was more Hungarian history than I expected, but aside from one or two dry stretches, even that history was engaging to read.

Interwoven with the story of her relationship with her father, Faludi brings up some very interesting points, like what is the difference between an individual self-identifying as a gender other than the one assigned them at birth and a far-right political party self-identifying as something other than "far-right" (and the government backing them on their demands that the press no longer call them far-right)? There are differences, for sure, but it's not something I'd thought of before, and I'm finding it interesting to think in this direction. I absolutely believe that gender is fluid rather than binary and that individuals should be able to choose their own pronouns, but what happens when we apply the same rules of self-identity to corporations, political parties, governments, and other entities that we do to individuals? This is kind of thing could (and perhaps already does) lead to Orwellian doublethink.

I also found chilling the way Faludi traces the nationalism in Hungary from rhetoric to violence. First step: Develop an exclusionary national identity and ignore or bully into silence any voices outside of that defined identity. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 28, 2020 |
I gave up after 100 pages. Susan's father is a thoroughly unpleasant person, male or female. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Jun 17, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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André, EmeliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 identified as "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 metamorphosis 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?

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