September 28, 2007

Book Review: Kinfolks

I finished reading Lisa Alther's Kinfolks the other day and I'm only just now getting around to writing my review. The full title of the book is a mouthful: Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree - The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors

And also, "Lisa" is pronounced "lee-za." In spite of what you may have heard elsewhere, Lisa with an S goes "zzz" not "sss" sometimes.

Kinfolks is a thoughtful book about the author's attempts to trace her genetic heritage in hopes of finding a personal identity.

If you're not familiar with the term Melungeon, Kinfolks will illuminate the muddy waters for you. I grew up in Georgia and I only have the faintest of memories of having encountered the word. I associate it with an image of scary circus folk, but Miss Alther reveals that there is a whole lot more to it. (After reading the book, I think there's a pretty good chance that your blonde-haired, blue-eyed blogger here has melungeon relatives himself!)

While the story is told with remarkably gentle, good humor and significant effort is described as the author strives for insight into her heritage, I found the book actually lacking in depth, but not in an unpleasant way. I'm not sure other people's relatives are all that interesting in the first place, but Miss Alther does succeed in painting a colorful, fun portrait of her kith and kin. In fact, the best parts of the book are those that focus on the specific actions and reactions of her relatives as she goes on this journey of personal discovery. I actually wish I could hang out with her dad. He sounds like a hoot!

The book talks a lot about race and what people think about race. It gently explores changing ideas about race and racial identity and does probe those ideas as far as I would care to read about someone doing such probing.

All in all, it's an ok book. I gave it three stars on my Good Reads list because it's just ok. I didn't hate it. I found parts of it very amusing, especially parts in the beginning that, like I said, focus on specific events associated with people in her family. It reminds me of David Sedaris but without so much melancholy and therefore not as much insight. I don't have any big criticisms of the book, but I don't have anything really great to say, either.

Would I recommend it to you? Probably not. It's not a very remarkable book.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 28, 2007 06:23 PM | TrackBack
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