My Long Trip Home
A Family Memoir
His father, “Syl” Whitaker, was the charismatic grandson of slaves who grew up the child of black undertakers from Pittsburgh and went on to become a groundbreaking scholar of Africa. His mother, Jeanne Theis, was a shy World War II refugee from France whose father, a Huguenot pastor, helped hide thousands of Jews from the Nazis and Vichy police. They met in the mid-1950s, when he was a college student and she was his professor, and they carried on a secret romance for more than a year before marrying and having two boys. Eventually they split in a bitter divorce that was followed by decades of unhappiness as his mother coped with self-recrimination and depression while trying to raise her sons by herself, and his father spiraled into an alcoholic descent that destroyed his once meteoric career.
Based on extensive interviews and documentary research as well as his own personal recollections and insights, My Long Trip Home is a reporter’s search for the factual and emotional truth about a complicated and compelling family, a successful adult’s exploration of how he rose from a turbulent childhood to a groundbreaking career, and, ultimately, a son’s haunting meditation on the nature of love, loss, identity, and forgiveness.
A Family Memoir from Mark Whitaker
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Read an Excerpt
Growing up, I always took it for granted that it was my mother who was first attracted to my father. After all, he was the exotic one, the gregarious one, the charm machine. She was the shy one, the one who stuttered so badly as a child that her parents sent her away to be treated by doctors in Paris and who still got self-conscious when she couldn’t get her words out quickly. But when I went back and investigated, it turned out that it was the other way around: He became obsessed with her.
She had noticed him around campus, of course. As one of the few black students at Swarthmore College in the mid-1950s,... see more
Reading Group Guide
In My Long Trip Home, Mark Whitaker, a renowned journalist and editor with over thirty years of experience reporting on the world around him, turns his eagle eye inward. My Long Trip Home traces the fascinating paths of Mark’s parents and grandparents, from the French countryside during World War II to segregated, wartime Pittsburgh, before settling in with his own personal story. Mark’s father, Syl, struggled mightily with alcoholism and anger issues; Mark’s mother, Jeanne, wrestled with depression and financial hardship raising two young sons on her own; and Mark spent much of his childhood angry at his parents for separating, and confused by their bitter divorce. But after years of emotional turmoil, Mark began to make peace with his family’s past, doing so in time to have one last meaningful visit with his father before his death. In this family memoir, Mark explores and retreads the many paths that converged to create his own life, and discovers the healing power of forgiveness and compassion along the way.
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