In a dramatic, moving work of historical reporting and personal discovery, Mark Whitaker, award-winning journalist, sets out to trace the story of what happened to his parents, a fascinating but star-crossed interracial couple, and arrives at a new understanding of the family dramas that shaped their lives—and his own.
His father, “Syl” Whitaker, was the charismatic grandson of slaves who grew up the child of black undertakers from Pittsburgh and went on to become a groundbreaking scholar of Africa. His mother, Jeanne Theis, was a shy World War II refugee from France whose father, a Huguenot pastor, helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis and Vichy police. They met in the mid-1950s, when he was a college student and she was his professor, and they carried on a secret romance for more than a year before marrying and having two boys. Eventually they split in a bitter divorce that was followed by decades of unhappiness as his mother coped with self-recrimination and depression while trying to raise her sons by herself, and his father spiraled into an alcoholic descent that destroyed his once meteoric career.
Based on extensive interviews and documentary research as well as his own personal recollections and insights, My Long Trip Home is a reporter’s search for the factual and emotional truth about a complicated and compelling family, a successful adult’s exploration of how he rose from a turbulent childhood to a groundbreaking career, and, ultimately, a son’s haunting meditation on the nature of love, loss, identity, and forgiveness.
An unhappy interracial family fissures along unique fault lines in this poignant memoir. Whitaker, executive v-p of CNN Worldwide, recounts the risky marriage, bitter divorce, and subsequent discontents of his father, Syl Whitaker, a grandson of slaves who became a prominent African studies scholar, and his mother, Jeanne Theis, a white refugee from WWII Nazi-occupied France whose father helped rescue Jews. The story is dominated by Syl, a charming, charismatic man whose infidelities destroyed his marriage and whose alcoholism sabotaged a brilliant academic career; Jeanne's withdrawn anguish and the author's search for identity his portraits of the African-American and French sides of his family are warm and vivid are a counterpoint to his saga of dysfunction and partial recovery. Whitaker is unsparing in his account of his father's sins and the scars they inflicted even after he quits drinking, Syl is still temperamental, manipulative, and self-centered but the author filters his profile through a rich reflection and understanding. Like Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, Whitaker's memoir is in many ways an iconic story of the post civil rights era, one in which transcending racial barriers liberates people to succeed and fail in their own peculiar ways. Photos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I found this book to be both sad and uplifting, it addresses how terrific life is and can be while show how quickly it can all slip away.
I realize that the author can only on autobiography, I think the passion with which this book was written; he should write another.