From Jerusalem to Ghana to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, a woman reclaims her history in a “beautifully written and thought-provoking” memoir (Dave Eggers, author of A Hologram for the King and Zeitoun).
A biracial woman from a country still divided along racial lines, Emily Raboteau never felt at home in America. As the daughter of an African American religious historian, she understood the Promised Land as the spiritual realm black people yearned for. But while visiting Israel, the Jewish Zion, she was surprised to discover black Jews. More surprising was the story of how they got there. Inspired by their exodus, her question for them is the same one she keeps asking herself: have you found the home you’re looking for?
In this American Book Award–winning inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement, Raboteau embarked on a ten-year journey around the globe and back in time to explore the complex and contradictory perspectives of black Zionists. She talked to Rastafarians and African Hebrew Israelites, Evangelicals and Ethiopian Jews—all in search of territory that is hard to define and harder to inhabit. Uniting memoir with cultural investigation, Raboteau overturns our ideas of place, patriotism, dispossession, citizenship, and country in “an exceptionally beautiful . . . book about a search for the kind of home for which there is no straight route, the kind of home in which the journey itself is as revelatory as the destination” (Edwidge Danticat, author of The Farming of Bones).
In this profound and accessible meditation on race, novelist (The Professor's Daughter) and scholar Raboteau depicts her travels from Israel and Jamaica to Africa and the Deep South in search of the elusive African-American notion of "home." Being both white and black, with an Irish mother and Southern-born black father, and growing up in Princeton, N.J., where her father taught African-American religion at Princeton, Raboteau had always felt "blackish in a land where one is supposed to be one thing or the other." Raboteau looks at various scenarios of "home" for black folks and finds it's never quite what they imagined it to be. For the slaves, for example, Canaan was due North, yet once they got there it didn't prove to be a place of milk and honey. For her Jewish best friend, Tamar, "home" meant Israel, which institutionalized the Right of Return to any wandering Jew, even Ethiopians, yet Israel's exclusion of Palestinians deeply unsettled Raboteau ("What kind of screwed-up Canaan has an intifada?"). For the Rastafarians, who look at their nation of Jamaica as a kind of Babylon, praying in the name of Bob Marley for One Love, as long as it excludes homosexuals, the Promised Land is Ethiopia, home of king Haile Selassie, whom many Rastafarians believe was a martyr. Yet among the Ethiopians and Ghanaians, Raboteau discovered unhealed wounds from racism, slavery, and economic inequality. Even among the devoted followers of the slick Southern preacher Creflo Dollar, the author never quite reconciled deep-seated unease about safety with faith, though her earnest, interior study is well worth the journey.