Literature Laurie Gunst Off-White: a memoir

ISBN 13: 9781569474303

Off-White: a memoir

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9781569474303: Off-White: a memoir

"[Gunst] writes with a clarity and honesty that belie the racial paradigm that was Richmond and the South.... This is a triumph of the spirit."—Louisville Courier-Post

"Poignant and emotionally wrenching at times, Gunst successfully navigates the positives and negatives of her familial history."—Upscale

“Laurie Gunst writes with authority about the complicated relationship between southern Jews and African Americans. Off-White perfectly captures the South in the latter half of the twentieth century and brings to mind the work of Truman Capote.”—Alfred Uhry, author of Driving Miss Daisy

Laurie Gunst is the youngest child in a well-to-do southern family of German-Jewish descent. Her primary source of care and love is Rhoda, a great-hearted African American woman who as caregiver presided over three generations of the Gunst family amidst the vicious racism of the Jim Crow South.

The intimate relationship between caregiver and child is strong. So is Laurie’s shame at aspects of her family’s racially-intolerant past: an ancestor fought for the South in the Civil War and another cooperated with the Klan in fomenting a race riot. As a vulnerable child she witnesses firsthand the unfairness of segregation that consigns the woman who cares for her to a lesser status. Laurie’s outrage at racial discrimination sets her apart from other white southerners, even her father. Love for Rhoda marks Laurie indelibly, just as it did her mother before her. Ultimately, she acknowledges Rhoda as a spiritual mother who shaped her life as much as her biological mother.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Born into an affluent southern Jewish family, Gunst has written a memoir that, despite its best intentions, never amounts to more than a series of lightly drawn family portraits and shallow observations on race. Part of the problem stems from Gunst, who undermines her own observations by supporting her narrative with myth and imagery. Rhoda, Gunst's childhood nanny and de facto mother, is undeniably loved, but, like all things black in this memoir, she is only a romantic figure. In describing Rhoda's first encounter with her future employer, Gunst's grandmother, Gunst writes, "She remained standing, which had the advantage of giving her the edge, allowing her to be as tall and upright in her stance as in her spirit." In trying to capture the spirit and strength of the black women who helped rear her, Gunst pays little more than the requisite homage-"yet only I could see who she really was: a person who happened to be a Negro, rather than a Negro who was therefore not a person"-to the fact that black women had few options outside a life of servitude. Despite its title, Gunst's memoir isn't really about race, or family, it's about Gunst showing how she's always been different from-if not better than-the archetypal, bigoted southerners alongside whom she was raised.
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From Booklist:

Gunst was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in the South and raised by a black woman who was employed by the Gunst family for three generations. Rhoda Lloyd provided the love and affection Gunst did not receive from her parents, who were distant, driven, and caught up in their own concerns about the tenuous place of Jews among the white Protestant First Families of Virginia. Loving Lloyd like a mother, but at pains not to present herself as a white person suffering from "mammyitis," Gunst grew up to appreciate diverse cultures. Seeing herself as part white, part Jewish, and part black--by virtue of her love for Lloyd--Gunst feels cross-racial and -cultural connections. She traces her own family history on her mother's side, uncovering a mysterious grandfather who played an unsavory part in a racial massacre, and also traces Lloyd's family history in a small southern town, all the while tying the complexities of race relations to family connections in this compelling memoir. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Gunst, Laurie
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