In socioeconomic terms, Fatheralong is about places and about the history of African Americans’ journeys to reach them, including the Atlantic crossing to America as slaves in the distant past; the journey to the town of Promised Land, South Carolina, as survivors during Reconstruction in the nineteenth century; the migration to Pittsburgh at the beginning of the twentieth century looking for a better life; and Wideman’s trip back to South Carolina as an adult trying to understand something about this complex history. The book is thus a personal course on reading history and geography in terms of self and family.

Throughout the memoir, Wideman analyzes or comments on a great number of current social and political problems, including prejudice, violence, and the economic geography of Pittsburgh, amid which Wideman grew up and which, like so many cities, still stultifies human lives. The United States, Wideman argues, stands between African American fathers and sons, for, among its many scarring effects, the paradigm of race denies African American diversity and makes color a fixed sign of class and thus of inferiority. In the course of Fatheralong, Wideman reveals not only his own personal history, the unique cultural background he shares with his family, and the rich ethnic history he shares with so many others, but also the effects of racism. Wideman tries to penetrate his father’s pride and to describe his dignity during their...

(The entire section is 446 words.)