In the Darkroom

Susan Falu­di
  • From the Publisher
January 4, 2017

In the sum­mer of 2004 I set out to inves­ti­gate some­one I scarce­ly knew, my father. The project began with a griev­ance, the griev­ance of a daugh­ter whose par­ent had abscond­ed from her life. I was in pur­suit of a scofflaw, an art­ful dodger who had skipped out on so many things―obligation, affec­tion, cul­pa­bil­i­ty, con­tri­tion. I was prepar­ing an indict­ment, amass­ing dis­cov­ery for a tri­al. But some­where along the line, the pros­e­cu­tor became a witness.”

So begins Susan Faludi’s extra­or­di­nary inquiry into the mean­ing of iden­ti­ty in the mod­ern world and in her own haunt­ed fam­i­ly saga. When the fem­i­nist writer learned that her 76-year-old father―long estranged and liv­ing in Hungary―had under­gone sex reas­sign­ment surgery, that inves­ti­ga­tion would turn per­son­al and urgent. How was this new par­ent who iden­ti­fied as a com­plete woman now” con­nect­ed to the silent, explo­sive, and ulti­mate­ly vio­lent father she had known, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er who’d built his career on the alter­ation of images?

Falu­di chas­es that mys­tery into the recess­es of her sub­ur­ban child­hood and her father’s many pre­vi­ous incar­na­tions: Amer­i­can dad, Alpine moun­taineer, swash­buck­ling adven­tur­er in the Ama­zon out­back, Jew­ish fugi­tive in Holo­caust Budapest. When the author trav­els to Hun­gary to reunite with her father, she drops into a labyrinth of dark his­to­ries and dan­ger­ous pol­i­tics in a coun­try hell-bent on repress­ing its past and con­struct­ing a fanciful―and virulent―nationhood. The search for iden­ti­ty that has trans­fixed our cen­tu­ry was prov­ing as treach­er­ous for nations as for individuals.

Faludi’s strug­gle to come to grips with her father’s meta­mor­pho­sis takes her across borders―historical, polit­i­cal, reli­gious, sex­u­al – to bring her face to face with the ques­tion of the age: Is iden­ti­ty some­thing you choose,” or is it the very thing you can’t escape?

Discussion Questions