Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation

Random. Mar. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780812997927. $28. MEMOIR
How deep do genetic roots penetrate into an individual’s day-to-day life? To answer this question, Newton’s debut memoir intermingles her own history and her extensive research in ancestry and genealogy, in a quest to uncover her ancestral path with an eye towards changing the family narrative. She grapples with the somber side of her roots in the Deep South of the United States, including a cycle of traumatic relationships that stubbornly repeats itself against the odds. Newton’s study of the histories of genealogy and genetic testing views these tools through a critical lens to reveal how they have been used to maintain a white-supremacist status quo, even as they can also be genuinely helpful for discovering one’s background. Newton references recent literature, including works by Morgan Jenkins and Alexander Chee, in her attempt to uncover the different ways in which humans relate to family and historical records, and to answer the question of what our ancestry says about us.
VERDICT An engaging and thoroughly researched memoir relaying a family history that is at turns recognizable and abhorrent, as an honest and typical history of American exceptionalism, racism, and misogyny. Will appealing to lovers of memoirs, family secrets, genealogy, and the sociological makeup threading U.S. history.
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