In Black & White, a novel by Catherine Lavender
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli's most recent novel is "Deborah Rising" (HarperColllins 2016), the story of the first woman to lead a nation in history. www.azrielibooks.com
In Black & White, a novel by Catherine Lavender, is the story of Micah Winters, the daughter of a black mother, who raised her, and a white father, who was absent and nameless for the first five decades of Micah’s life. Only upon his death (and with her mother’s mind in the merciless clutches of Alzheimer’s Disease, does Micah learns her father’s identity: A famous and wealthy novelist and screenwriter named Sidney Irving, who leaves her a complex inheritance and more questions than answers – about her parents’ relationship and the circumstances the ended it, depriving her of a father.
Author Catherine Lavender sets up a wonderful backdrop to this unique and emotional story of self-discovery, achieved through the gradual peeling off of layers of secrecy, prejudice, and longing. At the same time, the story is rooted in the realistic day-to-day existence of the characters. For example, Micah’s work at a bakery provides an opportunity that shows the author’s ability to imply deep meaning through delicate details and observations:
“The electricity in the bakery was back on, earlier than expected, and they were working on new orders. Tomorrow she had to create a cake in the shape of a blossoming flower, a white rose, in particular. … It was amazing how different couples wanted to stamp their own version of creativity on their cake. This couple wanted a white rose anniversary cake as a reminder of the single white rose the groom had given his bride as they danced for the first time as husband and wife. … Micah loved a challenge…”
Note the reference to a white rose, which is an example of many instances of subtle references in the novel to the multi-faceted meanings of the black-and-white contrasts in our human lives, habitual social perspectives, and moral contexts.
While the central theme of the novel is Micah’s exploration of her parents’ love and breakup in the context of race relations—public and private, past and present, painful and positive—the novel also explores the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged child caring for elderly parents, and the challenges of nursing home life—for the elderly and their loving children. The story also provides a fascinating journey of ‘rugs to riches’ with a twist: the riches come from a famous father who was never a father to her.
In a wonderful literary twist, Micah begins to untangle her parents’ segregation-era story of forbidden love and forsaken affections by delving into Sidney’s cryptic debut novel:
“The mystery surrounding her parents’ relationship was consuming her mind, and since there was no other way to get any information, she felt the need to read Sidney’s debut novel Daises for Lisa. If the book was an autobiography that had been cleverly disguised as a work of fiction, she might get a few answers from it. Apart from needing to know why her parents had decided not to stay together; she also wanted to know which one of them had ended the affair.”
In summary, this story of uncovering past sins, shocking truths, and touching kindness, rooted in American’s still troubled race tensions, provides a fascinating journey of discovery. Micah’s sensitivity, intelligence, and persistence lead her—and us—to a highly satisfying, yet intriguing resolution. This is a well-constructed novel, rich with human emotions, authentic conflicts, and genuine, real-life characters who will remain in readers’ minds for a long time. Highly recommended!