STARRED REVIEW
June 06, 2017

A complex racial divide

By Thrity Umrigar
Review by

Thrity Umrigar’s disturbing novel is going to be controversial. And it must be, for it deals head-on with race in America.

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Thrity Umrigar’s disturbing novel is going to be controversial. And it must be, for it deals head-on with race in America.

The story begins on a stiflingly hot day in 1991, when an African-American boy named Anton Vesper breaks a window to escape his apartment in a housing project. His crack-addicted mother, Juanita, has been gone for days. When Anton finally crawls out of the window, he opens his leg on a shard of glass, and the blood catches the attention of a passing cop.

A wealthy white judge named David Coleman learns of Anton’s plight and agrees to foster the bright, beautiful but undereducated child. David quickly falls in love with Anton; after a while, so does his wife, Delores. They adopt him. Anton comes to love his adoptive parents, too—deeply, genuinely. But the whole setup is so very wrong. It is wrong to the point that David—so loving, supportive and liberal—can be considered nothing less than the novel’s villain.

The fact remains that David stole a child from his mother. He blackmails Juanita and steals Anton the way a slave owner would steal a slave child from his mother. David wanted something and took it.

Fannie Hurst’s groundbreaking 1933 novel Imitation of Life was made into several movies and at least one song by the Supremes, and all of these versions end with the child, who has passed for white, begging forgiveness of their poor black mother who’s died of a broken heart caused by the child’s rejection. In the age of Obama, Anton doesn’t have to pass for white to grow up in privilege and to seek power as an adult. But in Umrigar’s thought-provoking tale, there’s a whole lot of forgiving to be done.

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Everybody’s Son

Everybody’s Son

By Thrity Umrigar
Harper
ISBN 9780062442246

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