Saturday, July 16, 2016

In the Darkroom

In the preface to her memoir/dual-biography, Susan Faludi says that her father was an expert at reinventing himself, a man who changed identities so often during his life that she barely knew him. Stephen Faludi, although he never admitted that he was the instigator or cause of the separation, abandoned his wife and daughter when Susan was still in her teens, and she had had little contact with him since. Neither of them had been willing to make the effort required to repair their fractured relationship, and they had, in fact, barely spoken for the past twenty-five years.

Then came the day in 2004 when Susan received an email from her father telling her that he had successfully undergone gender transformation surgery in Thailand and was now living legally in his Budapest home as Stefanie Faludi, a woman. But when Stefanie asked her daughter to "write my story," Susan realized that she would have to complete an extensive research project on her father before she could do that. And despite her father's desire to have Susan reveal her story to the world, Susan seldom found her willing to discuss her early life in any detail. Stefanie much preferred instead to focus on her physical transformation and various aspects of her new lifestyle, such as her new transgender friends, the transgender computer sites she favored, wardrobe changes, and her enjoyment of all the many advantages that women seem to her to have over men.

Susan discovered that changing one's personality is not as easy as changing one's gender. Her father had been an overly-aggressive, macho male, and she was now an overly aggressive female demanding to be treated the way she believed women deserve to be treated: with a combination of respect and equality. Stefanie's early history, however, including her exploits as a young Jewish man struggling to stay alive during World War II were largely conversationally out of bounds unless Susan caught her father in one of her infrequent nostalgic moments. And even when discussing family history and difficult past relationships with relatives, Stefanie was more likely to lie about the past than to reveal her own bad behavior.

Susan Faludi and Her Father, Stephen Faludi
Susan Faludi, though, refused to give up, and the result is a remarkable look at a man who spent his life searching for the person he really wanted to be. He was a man who decided to become a woman; a Jew who showed tremendous bravery during World War II but often expressed great contempt for the Jewish lifestyle; a man who physically and verbally abused his wife and daughter but blamed them for abandoning him; a man who does not seem to have enjoyed much of life but continued searching for something better until the day he died.

In the Darkroom is a daughter's study of the father she hardly knew, but it is more than that. It is as much Susan Faludi's biography as it is the story of her father. Too, it is a rather detailed and informative look at the social history of Hungary and its relationship with, and treatment of, it's Jewish population, a history that is seldom pretty - and almost always disturbing.

Faludi has written a memoir that fans of the genre should not miss.  

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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