Book Nook: Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar
Written by Avani Kaur Ladhar | Edited by Sithara Naidoo
Book Nook is the Blog’s column that has everything to do with reading! You can find reviews, opinions, recommendations and more.
Thrity Umrigar’s novel, Everybody’s Son, is an absolute page-turner. The book begins in 1991 during a terrible heatwave and focuses on the story of a man named Anton, a young black male growing up in the projects. Juanita, the protagonist’s mother, leaves ten-year-old Anton locked in an apartment for seven days without food, electricity, or air conditioning. Anton shatters the glass window and cuts his leg in an attempt to escape, and is rescued by the police. His mother is later discovered at a crack house in the neighbourhood. After this event, Anton meets Judge Coleman as he is being processed through family court. After losing his own child, Judge Coleman and his wife choose to use their position of power to adopt Anton.
Being brought up by a Harvard-educated Judge, the juxtaposition between Anton’s old life in the projects and his new life in the suburbs is stark. Anton follows his adopted father's footsteps and attends Harvard Law. However, with age, he begins to realize the truth about his life, his biological mother Junitia, and his adopted parents. Follow Anton and his journey as he navigates race, class, and politics within systems he would traditionally never belong to.
This is my favourite book on the face of this planet - and I never lean towards fiction books. I live for autobiographies, but this novel caught my eye. From the second I read the summary, I felt like I was reading a page out of my life. I grew up in Mill Woods and spent most of my childhood within a 5km radius of the area. As a result, I went to predominantly South Asian schools and had predominantly South Asian friends.
However, a lot changed when I started University. For the first few years, I studied Sciences, which I would argue is a diverse faculty, although there were less South Asian people there was still racial diversity. Because of the diversity among students, my race didn’t create too many difficulties for me as I adjusted to university life. It wasn’t until I took a leap of faith that went against my parents’ wishes at the time and switched into the Arts faculty with a major in Political Science. Compared to Sciences, the Arts programs are not as diverse, therefore people of color tend to get to know each other quickly. It was at this point in my life that I started thinking more critically about my position as a woman of colour in white spaces.
Everybody’s Son led me to reflect on my own experiences as a woman of colour in a white dominated space. In the novel, Anton’s college girlfriend makes the comment “I can’t decide if you’re the blackest white man I’ve ever met or the whitest black man”, a statement that I strongly resonated with. At the time, I had short blonde hair and I refused to speak any Punjabi – even with family – because I thought it made me sound less educated. I would compare my skin with my “lighter” friends and try not to go outside to avoid getting darker. Unconsciously, I was trying to erase parts of my identity to conform to “whiteness” because I thought it would protect me from personally being discriminated against. I thought that if I appeared and presented myself as the norm, I would get the same set of privileges as those who naturally fit the mold, and that’s just not true. It wasn’t until I met my Instructor, Daisy Raphel, that I started understanding that these were way’s for me to fit into white ideals of beauty and success. I wish I was a person who grew up in love with my language and culture. I hated myself for years because I didn’t fit into what society equated to as beautiful or smart. When I was younger I used to think this was because something was wrong with me, but as I grew older a change in perspective occurred and I learned that the system was never created to support, encourage and applaud people that looked like me.
My identity as a racialized person is still something that I struggle with. But I’ve learned that no matter what I do I’m not going to fit into conventional standards. And that’s not a bad thing, it just means people are going to remember me better. I still struggle with my race when I’m the only person of colour in meetings of over 40 people and when the youth I meet in the criminal justice system tell me about the discrimination they face. There are days I have a hard time getting out of bed because of these stories.
But my race is also what gives me the strength to do my job. My race allows me to create space for people who never had the luxury to exist in these predominantly white spaces. Like Anton, I’m also learning to find my place in spaces not made for people like us.