Inez was born in 1918 - looking white without being white. A light-skinned daughter of the Deep South, she grew up determined not to let Jim Crow put limits on her happiness. So she embraced her contradictions and decided to make a different life for herself and her family.
Now, decades later, her son, critically acclaimed poet and novelist Clarence Major, tells her story. Starting with his own childhood awakening to the realization that his mother could pass for white, Major reaches back to paint a brilliant portrait of a woman on intimate terms with mysteries, secrets, and her own truth.
Escaping an abusive marriage, Inez would flee to Chicago, the city that became a symbol of her dilemmas as well as of her liberation. To survive, she had to leave her young children behind in the shadow of her past and under the color line. Passing as white, she would embark audaciously on a double life to earn a decent salary. To overcome every obstacle to her happiness, she would have to risk everything she loved and, finally, embrace herself.
Using his poet's eye for detail and his novelist's ear for speech, Major (who was shortlisted for a 1999 National Book Award for configurations) mutes his voice to create his mother's memoir. With authentic plainness, Inez - who is ""light, not white""- relates her journey to self-fulfillment through a world of demented racial complexity. ""In a country where a white woman could give birth to a black child but a black woman could not give birth to a white child,"" Inez lives a ""secret life as a white woman."" Issues of race (as she deals with the employment opportunities available to her only as a white woman) and issues of gender (as Inez deals with an abusive husband) occupy, by virtue of their social significance, the core of this skillfully written book. The rich details of growing up (school, games, friends, church) and of family life (courting, marriage, babies, dying) give Majors book particular vitality. Captured through the vision of one woman, ""interchangeably black or white"" in a time and place where she ""could not be both,"" Inez's memoir moves from plantation to segregation to migration. As one generation's smallpox becomes another's measles, as Aunt Saffrey's ""fancy horse-drawn buggy"" is outmoded by ""Pa's new Chevrolet;' as Inez moves from tiny Dublinville to the big city of Atlanta, a whole history of African-American life unfolds. Women readers will find Inez's resilience and perseverance inspirational. (May) Forecast: In academia, the study of"" passing"" (looking white without being white) is a longstanding favorite. Specialists and students in cultural studies and women's studies will want this book. (""Publishers Weekly,"" May 6, 2002)