Driving Yourself Nuts Over Six Fingered Kinfolks
What should you do when your baby sitter threatens you with the six- fingered boogeyman? Look for him, of course. That's what Lisa Alther does to overcome her "chronic identity crisis" in a delightfully wicked journey of discovery of self, in Kinfolks - Falling Off the Family Tree: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors.
This memoir is interesting from three perspectives. One, it underscores our obsession with race. We need to know who we are in terms of what we are. The other is our need to belong, to claim identity in terms of a particular mix of ethnicity and concrete "mother" group(s), even when the author's self-described history dates back several generations in this country. Lastly, this book is a quick but intriguing read of the lost history of several groups of people who lived, were brought or came to the southeastern United States.
Who are the Melungeons? As Alther herself says toward the end of the book, "After a series of tests, I learned that I'd been walking around for six decades in a body constructed by DNA originating in Central Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. This in addition to the contributions from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, and Native America, which I already knew about through conventional genealogical methods.
For weeks after receiving these results, I wandered around in a daze, humming "We Are the World." A lifelong suspicion that I fit nowhere turned out not to be just idle paranoia. But once the reality of my panglobal identity sank in, I realized that I'd finally found my long-sought group. It consists of mongrels like myself who know that we belong nowhere -- and everywhere. This book chronicles my six-decade evolution from bemused Appalachian misfit to equally bemused citizen of the world."
Alther's story is woven with droll wit and affection. Stay on the ride with her, as she embarks on her decade long wild goose chase to ferret out deeply buried dark secrets, and you won't be disappointed.
Kinfolks - Falling Off the Family Tree: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors.
Author: Lisa Alther
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Date first published: 2007