One of my strongest hopes in writing Ancestor Trouble was that it might help some people feel less marooned with their own ancestor troubles. So you can imagine how touched and floored I was to find the book listed in The Atlantic by Tajja Isen—a writer and editor I deeply admire—as one of “Six Books To Read When You Want to Feel Closer to Others,” alongside great books like Saeed Jones’ Alive at the End of the World and others I need to read.
Here’s what she wrote:
Ancestor Trouble, by Maud Newton
In this deeply researched memoir, Newton explores our connections with biological family. For Newton, that particular kind of relation can be vexed. She has long been fascinated by stories about the generations that preceded her, but she must also face the difficult parts of that history—for example, the virulent racism of her estranged father, the casual bigotry of her beloved grandmother, or, further back, her relatives who enslaved people. “It’s one thing to acknowledge bigotry and inhumanity where we expect it,” Newton writes; “it’s another thing to face and acknowledge it in the people we love most.” Her meticulous excavation of her family tree is both an engaging narrative and a clear-eyed reckoning. Ancestor Trouble asks not only what we owe those who came before us but also how the wrongs of our forebears inform what we owe those alive with us today. Newton has a passionate interest in the secrets of her bloodline and how they might erupt—genetically, dispositionally, psychologically—in her own life. Her research leads her into an exploration of the genealogy industry and global practices of ancestor worship, presenting a panoramic case for the value of honoring and reconciling one’s relationship to a challenging heritage.