Tales in Black and White

By Lise Funderburg

March 1998

This month two first-time novelists view life through the prism of the not-so-tragic mulatto. First, Danzy Senna makes a stunning debut with Caucasia (Riverhead, $24.95). In her engrossing tale, two sisters growing up in Boston are so close that they share a secret language, Elemeno, named after their favorite letters in the alphabet. But they don’t share skin color or hair texture, and so when their parents’ interracial marriage breaks up, Birdie, the light one, goes with their White mother; Cole, the older, darker sister, goes with their Black father. Senna finds a perfect-pitch voice for Birdie that blends innocence, wry humor and straight-out pain. The second book, Lady Moses (HarperFlamingo, $24), by Lucinda Roy, is the epic tale of Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses, the London-raised daughter of a White English mother and an African father. This is an ambitious first novel, and the themes of family, parenting, race, identity, artistry and love are occasionally given short shrift. But Roy does hit some moments dead-on. As different as Caucasia and Lady Moses may be in execution, they are similarly bold in their consideration of the intersecting boundary lines of race and love.