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When a stack of pulpy paperback novels written by her long-dead father landed on Julia McKenzie Munemo’s kitchen table, she—a white woman—had been married to a black man from Zimbabwe for six years and their first son was a toddler. Her alarm at the covers, which promised interracial pornography set during slavery—some of it even taking place in Africa—was matched only by her shame about her father’s secret career. All she’d previously known about him was that he’d suffered from depression and delusions and had killed himself when she was five. So she did what she always did with details about her dad, and hid the books from herself, and from her growing mixed-race family. But then, a decade later, when police shootings of African American men were more and more in the public eye, she realized that understanding her own legacy seemed like the only way to begin to understand what was happening in her country. The Book Keeper is equal parts love story, family interrogation, and racial reckoning as Munemo comes to terms with her whiteness, and with her history.
“The Book Keeper is a fiercely felt memoir about family shame and the transformative power of love even as it’s also an ongoing meditation on privilege and race in twenty-first century America. This is a debut striking in its empathetic imagination, observational acuity, and emotional intelligence.”—Jim Shepard, author of Like You’d Understand, Anyway, and The Book of Aron
“In lucid and unadorned prose, Munemo gives focus to her powerful material, which feels essential to the larger cultural conversation about race in America. In tracing her own journey from reckoning with to ownership of her family’s past, she offers a unique and important perspective that I haven’t seen before in memoir. The Book Keeper does what the best nonfiction does: through a unique and deeply felt personal story, it brings larger cultural and historic threads to light with nuance and resonance.”—Domenica Ruta, author of With or Without You
“Julia McKenzie Munemo has written an extraordinary book: about love, inheritance, race, loss and revelation. By unpacking the story of her father’s past—as a writer of racially charged pulp fiction—she in turns unpacks the story of herself, her husband, and the future of her children. Rarely does one come across a story as intricately blended and obviously unified as Munemo’s. This story, neatly told, with keen narrative syncopation, stands not only as a multi-generational interrogation into a writer’s unfurling past, but also as a fable about the complexity of race in America.”—Jaed Coffin, author of Roughhouse Friday
“Julia McKenzie Munemo’s The Book Keeper is a generous, intimate love story across continents and cultures, as well as an incisive social commentary on America’s racial divide. What, The Book Keeper asks, can racial progress possibly look like in a country where white liberals so willingly put on blinders every day? And how, in these tumultuous times, can a mother of two black boys tell her children they are safe? This is an urgent, crucial inquiry into what it means to mourn and to forgive and to hope.”—Susan Conley, author of The Foremost Good Fortune