October 22, 2018

A personal, transparent look at gender and identity

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Faludi is best known for her landmark books “Backlash” and “Stiffed,” both of which are penetrating investigations of the role of gender in American life. So there is an ironic wallop in her latest book, “In the Darkroom” (Metropolitan Books), a confessional memoir in which she “set[s] out to pursue the stranger who was my father” — a father who has become a woman. 

The story begins when Faludi receives an email from the man she knew as Steven Faludi with the taunting signature: “Love from your parent, Stefanie.” Attached to the email are photos of her father in a blond wig, a ruffled blouse, and a skirt, all clues to what she would find when she caught up with her father in his native Hungary — “A relative … with a pronoun to be determined.”  

Faludi invites us along on a gripping and often heart-rending journey through history, identity and family, and we come away — as she did — with a deep and powerful understanding of the ways in which the weighty apparatus of civilization imprints itself on a tender human life. 

Jonathan Kirsch: You write in your book: “Who is the person you were ‘meant to be’? Is who you are what you make of yourself, or is it determined by your inheritance and all its fateful forces, genetic, familial, ethnic, religious, cultural, historical? In other words, is identity what you choose, or what you can’t escape?” How would you summarize your answers to the question?

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JONATHAN KIRSCH, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.