An award-winning writer delivers a poignant and provocative novel of identity, race and the search for belonging in the age of globalization.
One afternoon, not long after Kelly Thorndike has moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, an African American man he doesn’t recognize calls out to him. To Kelly’s shock, the man identifies himself as Martin, who was one of Kelly’s closest friends in high school—and, before his disappearance nearly twenty years before, skinny, white, and Jewish. Martin then tells an astonishing story: After years of immersing himself in black culture, he’s had a plastic surgeon perform “racial reassignment surgery”—altering his hair, skin, and physiognomy to allow him to pass as African American. Unknown to his family or childhood friends, Martin has been living a new life ever since.
Now, however, Martin feels he can no longer keep his new identity a secret; he wants Kelly to help him ignite a controversy that will help sell racial reassignment surgery to the world. Kelly, still recovering from the death of his wife and child and looking for a way to begin anew, agrees, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control.
Inventive and thought-provoking, Your Face in Mine is a brilliant novel about cultural and racial alienation and the nature of belonging in a world where identity can be a stigma or a lucrative brand.
This furiously smart first novel from Row (who wrote the short story collection The Train to Lo Wu) opens up difficult conversations about race and identity. The narrator, Kelly Thorndike, is back in his hometown, Baltimore, after his wife and daughter die in an accident. Now in his mid-30s, Kelly reconnects with Martin, a friend from his high school days. Back then, Martin was a white Jewish kid known as Martin Lipkin, but he suffered from racial dysphoria and later underwent "racial reassignment surgery." Now Martin is a black man named Martin Wilkinson, and he recruits Kelly to tell his story. Martin's relationship to the truth is flexible, and there's potentially a lot of money to be made. Not every plot twist is believable, but that seems appropriate although set in the present day, the book is also a foray to the edge of possibility. Martin's goal of spinning racial reassignment into a global enterprise is half business plan and half pipe dream, but for Martin and his partners, the future is now. Your Face in Mine (note the slipperiness of the title: who's who here?) takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.