In The Darkroom by Susan Faludi

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According to Goodreads, In the Darkroom is “Susan Faludi’s extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of identity in the modern world and in her own haunted family saga. When the feminist writer learned that her 76-year-old father—long estranged and living in Hungary—had undergone sex reassignment surgery, that investigation would turn personal and urgent.”

Faludi’s book has been making a few appearances on “Best Of” book lists for 2016 and this, coupled with the stranger than fiction synopsis, had me immediately intrigued. Right away let me warn you that there is a lot tucked into one book here: biography, investigative journalism, WWII, Holocaust, and Hungarian history, identity politics (especially as it applies to women, transgendered persons, and Jewish people), art history, and myth-making to name a few. This is yet another biography that goes beyond the simple bounds of that genre. Faludi is thoughtful about all the topics she broaches, looking at them from both a personal and a universal perspective. Expect to walk away from this one with a lot to think about.

Beyond the politics, one of my favourite aspects of this book was the anecdotes of her father’s skill as a conman. He may be an asshole but he’s also quite impressive: managing to save his parents from the Nazis and manipulating the system so he could be approved for sex reassignment surgery. It is insanely depressing to think about how many stories we’re losing from the 20th century as the population ages. Most of the people Faludi interviews are at least 70 years old.

Few minor complaints: photography and manipulation of image are two very vital topics in both the life of Faludi’s father and the book – which left me perplexed at the absence of photos included in the story. Another issue: unsurprisingly I didn’t agree with Faludi’s views all the time and at points I thought she was quite judgemental about certain identities (especially transgendered ones). I chalked up her most confrontational moments to the influence of her father – how can one be unbiased when it comes to their own flesh and blood?

Has anyone else read this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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