A stunning tale about the deeply entrenched conflicts between a white mother and her biracial daughter.
Mama’s Child is story of an idealistic young white woman who travelled to the American South as a civil rights worker, fell in love with an African American man, and started a family in San Francisco, where the more liberal city embraced them—except when it didn’t. They raise a son and daughter, but the tensions surrounding them have a negative impact on their marriage, and they divorce when their children are still young. For their biracial daughter, this split further destabilizes her already challenged sense of self—“Am I black or white?” she must ask herself, “Where do I belong?” Is she her father’s daughter alone?
As the years pass, the chasm between them widens, even as the mother attempts to hold on to the emotional chord that binds them. It isn’t until the daughter, Ruby, herself becomes a wife and mother that she begins to develop compassion and understanding for the many ways that her own mother’s love transcended race and questions of identity.
Author and journalist Lester follows up her first novel (Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong, a YA title about a biracial teen) by tracing the conflicts of a mixed-race family from the 1960s to the mid-2000s. Elizabeth O'Leary, of Irish and Jewish heritage, meets and falls in love with an African-American musician, Solomon Jordan, after she joins the Civil Rights movement in 1963. The couple marry and settle down in Northern California to raise their two children, Che and Ruby, the latter of whom has a problematic relationship with her mother. As Elizabeth is caught up in the burgeoning women's movement, she and Solomon split, and he moves to N.Y.C. to teach at Columbia University, taking Che with him. Ruby feels the lack of a black role model in her life, and the ensuing tensions that build between her and Elizabeth culminate in Ruby moving east and cutting her mother out of her life. Unfortunately, the path to their eventual reconciliation is strewn with stereotypes, detracting from what could have been an illuminating exploration of racial identity.