Caucasia: A Novel [Danzy Senna] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Look out for Danzy Senna’s latest book, New People, on sale in . Maya Jaggi on Danzy Senna’s parable of race, From Caucasia, With Love. A Longish Intro on How I Came Across this Book Danzy Senna reviewed a book in the New Yorker in May , a work she refers to as that.

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Caucasia Summary & Study Guide

Light-skinned African-Americans “passing” for white daucasia long served in American fiction to expose the bizarre pathologies caicasia the caucasai line. Danzy Senna’s absorbing debut updates the theme to the tail end of black power in the s and early s, as seen through the eyes of a young girl coming of age.

Birdie is the daughter of black Deck, an academic revolutionary, and white Sandy, the blonde, “blue-blooded” daughter of a Harvard professor, who is an activist for a black power cell. Birdie is so close to her older sister Cole that they speak a private language, but while Cole appears black, Birdie is taken to be white, provoking flickers of “surprise, sometimes amusement, sometimes disbelief” in strangers.

The novel reveals how far identity is confined to “the illusions that were our skins”, and how those illusions can fracture a family.

While Cole is Deck’s favourite – “proof that his blackness hadn’t been completely blanched” – he is nearly arrested simply for walking in the park with his younger daughter.

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Sandy, meanwhile, feels inadequate to care for Cole’s “nappy” hair, while her own mother lines Birdie up to receive the family heirlooms, praising her Italian or French looks.

The eight-year-old senses these as “sinister compliments”: In a racially divided Boston after the advent of civil rights, the sisters are sent to a black power school. Deck heads for Brazil with Cole and his new girlfriend, while Sandy and Birdie go on the run to the “whitewashed” heartland of New Hampshire the “Caucasia” of the title camouflaged as “Sheila Goldman” and her half-Jewish daughter.

Birdie floats through a world of motels and women’s communes, imbibing “trailah pahk cultcha” and learning to sway her hips “to the sound of heavy metal, wear blue eyeliner and frosted lipstick and snap my gum”. Though fearing whiteness as “contagious”, she is conscious of her body as a “toy” enabling her to disappear into different worlds like a shapeshifter.

Caucasia Reader’s Guide

She imagines herself a “spy in enemy territory” and prefers trailerpark nuts to genteel racists like her grandmother: Senna deftly charts liminal states, not only of racial identity and womanhood but of sexuality and class. Deck falls into homophobic disdain for a friend who comes out after a lifetime of “passing” as straight; Birdie is befriended by a transvestite hooker. Sandy, too, has chosen to cross borders. She is among the privileged who are brave enough “to forgo their birthrights and switch their fates” – at the cost of losing a child to “this war they call America”.


The novel gathers the pace of a thriller as the resourceful Birdie becomes a runaway searching for her scattered family. She rejects the person she has become and throws out as “Victorian crap” her grandmother’s mantel of the “tragic mulatto”, declaring: Yet this novel is aimed less at black affirmation than at questioning the very meaning of race.

Caucasia by Danzy Senna

As Deck spells out to Birdie, race is not just an artificial construct, but a year-old scientific error: We all wear cahcasia. You just switched yours at some point”. From Caucasia, With Love welcomes new possibilities, hinting at mingled identities.

Deck describes the mulatto as a canary in a gold mine, a gauge of the poison of American race relations; Birdie’s is the first generation of canaries to survive – however bruised.

Deck’s theories threaten to make over-explicit what is more subtly revealed through metaphor. Reflecting on snena way apparent opposites meet, Birdie says: It’s the same with things that are deeply black – an Asian girl’s hair, a drop of ink, a stallion’s coat. They turn to blue. It strives for honesty rather than show, illuminating both painful and heartening truths.