Growing up the child of bitterly divorced parents, novelist Danzy Senna wondered if multiracial relationships ever survive. In her new memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Senna traces the disintegration of her parents’ high-profile marriage—an interracial, cross-class union of two writers that was consecrated a year after Loving v. the State of Virginia legalized interracial marriage. Decades after her working–class, Afro-Mexican father beat and abandoned her New England, blue–blood, white mother, Senna seeks to uncover what part of their collective history was responsible for fracturing their promising future.
Senna weaves narratives of familial dysfunction, poverty and racial tension across generations. While her mother’s lineage can be traced to the Mayflower and is deeply woven into the history of the American slave trade, Senna’s father seemed to have no past at all. Traveling to the South together despite a weak connection to one another, father and daughter explore his confusing, contradictory childhood. While seeking answers through DNA tests and faded newspaper clippings, Senna comes to understand her father’s need to blame his violent, addictive behaviors on oppressive histories of race and class. Without his personal history to blame, the sins of generations past are held accountable.
At the end of her journey, Senna comes full circle, becoming a parent to her own multiracial son. As much as she resents others’ fixation on her newborn’s color and characteristics, she concludes that she has not yet escaped her own distinctly American obsession with race, status and a sense of belonging.