Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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19 August 2007

Lisa Alther Home Page

Lisa Alther Home Page

Author of:
Kinfolks--Falling Off the Family Tree: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors

WGBH Forum Network: Book Note

Kinfolks Amazon Link

Editorial Reviews from Amazon (at link above):
Editorial Reviews
From Booklist
*Starred Review* Trading on the title of her first novel, the best-selling Kinflicks(1976), Alther presents Kinfolks, her first work of nonfiction, a wise, funny inquiry into the complexities of inheritance. A Tennessean with a New Yorker mother and a Virginian father, Alther grew up feeling like the Civil War incarnate and was mystified by her Cadillac-driving grandmother, who, for all her pride in her blueblood Virginia heritage, refused to contact her back-home relatives. But what induces Alther to turn genealogical sleuth is a cousin's declaration that he is a Melungeon. Melungeons are reputedly multiracial Appalachians sometimes burdened with six-fingered hands and a reputation for the evil eye. Controversial theories suggest African, Portuguese, Turkish, and/or Native American descent. High-spirited Alther's curiosity sends her to dusty courthouse archives, Native American casinos, and locales across Europe and Turkey, and her findings enable her to bring historical Appalachia into focus as a landing place for refugees from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Drolly hilarious and incisive, Alther attempts to decode family secrets, gets to know self-declared Melungeons, and considers her unexpected ties to Pocahontas, ultimately presenting a provocative take on the South's obsession with skin color. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Library Journal, April 1, 2007
"Lively, engaging . . . The journey is a delight, full of arch observations . . . Of more than just regional interest."

Book Description
In this dazzling, hilarious memoir, best-selling author of Kinflicks Lisa Alther chronicles her search for the missing--often mysterious--branches of her family tree.
Most of us grow up thinking we know who we are and where we come from. Lisa Alther's mother hailed from New York, her father from Virginia, and every day they reenacted the Civil War at home in East Tennessee. Then one night a grizzled babysitter with brown teeth told Lisa about the Melungeons: six-fingered child-snatchers who hid in cliff caves outside town. Forgetting about these creepy kidnappers until she had a daughter of her own, Lisa learned that the Melungeons were actually a group of dark-skinned people--some with extra thumbs--living in isolated pockets in the South. But who were they? Where did they come from? Were they the descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh's Lost Colony, or of shipwrecked Portuguese or Turkish sailors? Or were they the children of European frontiersmen, African slaves, and Native Americans? Theories abounded, but no one seemed to know for sure.

Learning that a cousin had had his extra thumbs removed, Lisa set out to discover who these mysterious Melungeons really were and why her grandmother wouldn't let her visit their Virginia relatives. Were there Melungeons in the family tree? Lisa assembled a hoard of clues over the years, but DNA testing finally offered answers.

Part sidesplitting travelogue, part how--and how not--to climb your family tree, Kinfolks shimmers with wicked humor, illustrating just how wacky and wonderful our human family really is.