Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Black and white.

Should you feel at the end of this post that I didn’t work hard enough to find a more tellingly appropriate title, let me stop you right here and assert that you’ve got it all wrong. “Black and white” is not about the skin colour of the main protagonists of the Essie Mae Washington-Williams’ book, Dear Senator A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond (Regan Books, New York, 2005). Far from it. It’s about the joyous discovery that we can read in black and white the strange tale of an always-under-the-wraps filial relationship. I am particularly impressed by the restraint, tolerance and sense of humour of the story teller – Strom Thurmond’s out-of-wedlock first-born daughter – while telling us what is mostly a sad tale beginning with a common-law wife’s rejection by her Southern aristocratic husband and finding a closure in her daughter being publicly accepted by her father’s family. Essie Mae did not betray the “state secret” of her politician father until after his death at the ripe old age of 100 − for nearly eight decades, to wit. What’s more, it took a lot of prodding from her family and friends, the way she tells it, to finally persuade her to quit the closet. Her life story seems straight out of a sudsy soap opera made on a fairly generous budget. What impressed me most is the way the book encapsulates the history of the emancipation of African-Americans and their integration in the main stream in the 20th century – the civil rights movement, in other words − along with the pertinent Civil War background (including the Jim Crow “separate but equal” era highlights) without interfering with the main, poignant narrative. An unusual and rewarding read and an insightful document of immense societal significance, I vouch. And, to think that I managed to sniff it out from the pile of books at the Strand Bookstall’s Rock Bottom Sale for a mere fifty rupees! (P.S.: A lot of the credit for the enchanting and languidly elegant style and the lucid and logically organised flow of the narrative of this excellent memoir, I guess, belongs to the “as-told-to” collaborator and scribe, William Stadiem.)