Kirkus Reviews (1 December 1997)
SOURCE: A review of Caucasia, in Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1997, p. 1733.
[In the following review, the critic praises Senna's Caucasia for its effective evocation of being caught between two races.]
[Caucasia, is a]n ambitious debut novel that powerfully, if schematically, addresses the conditions of those living in the great racial no-man's-land—that is to say, the children of mixed marriage—who belong to both races but are often also rejected by both.
The author, a young Boston-raised writer, is herself the product of a mixed marriage, which gives her first fiction an authenticity that compensates for a plot that's often more a series of instructive set-pieces than a seamless narrative. Set in the late 1970s and early ′80s, the story takes place against the rise and decline of black power, as well as against radical activism, both of which are vividly detailed and form part of the subplot. Birdie, the narrator, is the younger daughter of Sandy, a Boston WASP, and black intellectual and Harvard-educated Deck. The two fell in love, married, and were soon the parents of two daughters: black Cole and "white" Birdie. Both Sandy and Deck were involved in antigovernment political movements, but Sandy increasingly became the more radical of the two. Birdie recalls how, as she and Cole grew older, the hurts and difficulties of being neither black or white accumulated: Cole was taunted for being white at her Afrocentric school, while the sisters' white grandmother favored Birdie at Cole's expense. And when their parents separated, and Deck went off to Brazil in search of a color-blind society, he took Cole with him. Left behind with her mother, Birdie describes the lonely years spent with Sandy on the run from the FBI. She also recollects her schooldays with bigoted New Hampshire whites and how, as a teenager, she finally escaped from Sandy and found a bittersweet reunion with Deck and Cole.
An accomplished novel of issues that doesn't offer any easy solutions but dies poignantly evoke the pain and paradox of those caught in the racial crossfire.