Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In the Darkroom, by Susan Faludi. Metropolitan Books, 2016

After the author’s parent’s split up when she was a teen, she saw little of her father. When she got an email from him when he was 76 years old, he had a surprise for her: he had had Sexual Reassignment Surgery and was now a woman- Steven Faludi was now Stefanie. She wanted her daughter to come visit her. While Susan was ready to find out more about her father’s life, she wasn’t ready to forgive her for how she’d treated her mother and herself, which was what her father was really after.

Stefi was born in Hungary under another name. Her parents were upper middle class Jews, but Germany invaded, different political factions ran the country, and they lost everything. She escaped, and as far as Susan knew, never had contact with her family again. She came to America, married, and played the suburban father of the era, building things in the basement. When the marriage fell apart, she kicked the door down and attacked the man Susan’s mother was seeing. Things didn’t get any better after that.

Susan heads for Hungary, expecting her father to ask for forgiveness for her absence from her life. That’s not what Stefi has in mind, though. First Stefi wants to share her wardrobe with Susan! But a connection is made, and Susan spends the next few years visiting her father in Hungary. At a glacial pace over the years, Stefi reveals her past. Escaping Nazis and anti-Semitic Hungarian governments through Germany, Demark, Brazil, and finally the USA, she reinvented herself with every move. She boasted about knowing how to fake things. A macho outdoorsman, a Christian, a suburban dad, a gifted photographer and artist with photo retouching. A man. Did she fully inhabit any of these roles, or were they all play acting? Did the fact that she was trapped in a male body make it impossible for her to feel completely comfortable in any of her younger roles? Would she have been a better parent and spouse if she had lived in a female body? Given the late date of her SRS, the trans part of Stefi’s story is a very small part, although it’s the part stressed on the book jacket.

While Susan learns a great deal about her father’s past, it’s not until after Stefi is dead that Susan finds out that there was still a great deal to discover. It’s a fascinating story about identity and family secrets. 

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  1. Is the story believable with all the various roles the Stefi character plays or has lived? I like the idea of finding family and secrets.

    1. I did believe that Stefi could have done all those things- eastern Europe & Germany were a mess during WW 2 and I think, as ballsy as Stefi was, she could have done the things she claimed she did. BUT... we find out after Stefi died, from relatives that Susan didn't even know were still alive, that Stefit lied about lots of things. Some of the things she lied about were to make her look better of course; oddly, some of the things she hid revealed a much more family oriented and kind person than she put herself out as being.

      So... I don't know if Susan ever found all the truth about her father.