In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi: A Photographic Savant

This creative non-fiction book is about identity: national, political, gender. Faludi received an email from her father with the subject line “Changes.” They had been estranged for years, and suddenly he announced he had transitioned from male to female at the age of 76.

Thus began years of reconnecting, researching, and rehabilitating their connection. I did not expect to relate to this book on such a personal level. I was interested in learning more about Faludi herself as well as her father. Her father was born and raised in Hungary, lived through World War II, and was Jewish.

The story of what happened to him and his family would have been enough to engage me. But in addition, he was something of a photographic savant, manipulating film and photographs long before Photoshop. He became invaluable to fashion magazines and photographers like Richard Avedon. After his wife divorced him, he returned to Hungary and left her and the children without support. Susan went from living a comfortable life to one of hardship.

Once Susan and her father reconnected, she began to explore all the sides of her father, all of which were well-documented in film and photographs. She sets all these tales in the context of time and place and political landscape. What has happened in Hungary in this century is hair-raising, as it has turned into perhaps the most far-right country in the European Union. The parallels to what is currently happening in the US are frightening and eye opening. One of the leaders from Hungary (Sebastian Gorka) is now an advisor to our own president.

The ending, which I won’t reveal, took an unexpected turn, which made the book even more personal to me.

In the Darkroom is worth your time, the effort, and the cost of the book. It could well be one of the ten best books of 2017.

Sandra de Helen lived and wrote in Oregon for half her life. Now she is a Californian. You can read her work in ROAR, The Dandelion Review, The Medical Journal of Australia, Mom Egg, Stillwater Review, Lavender Review: Night Issue, Generations of Poetry and “pay attention: A River of Stones.” Her chapbook “All This Remains to be Discovered” was published in May 2015 by McCorkle Ink, and the mini-chapbook “Invert Sugar” was published in July 2012 by Binge Press.

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