The dominant theme of Mira Jacob’s new book “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations” is race in America.
Though the graphic memoir’s subject is weighty, the text and the graphics infuse the book with a relaxed, approachable tone and imagery from the get-go. Conversational, indeed. Jacobs is the book’s author and illustrator.
The book’s opening conversation is between Mira and her 6-year-old son, Z. It focuses on his obsession with his idol, Michael Jackson.
Z wants to be known as “the sixth Jackson,” after the Jackson Five. The talk moves to deeper questions. Z wants to know if Jackson was brown like him, or white.
That conversation is a lead-in to many brief talks that Mira has with Z, with family members, and friends that point to the challenging subjects of race and racial stereotypes that are at the core of so much of today’s public discourse.
Z is himself biracial. His mother is the daughter of East Indian immigrants. Z’s father/Mira’s husband, is Jewish. As for dad’s color, Mira tells Z he is white.
“I felt that in 2015 America was ramping up to a position where no one would believe the racial pain we are all in,” Mira said in a phone interview.
She acknowledged that the principal topic in the discussion trying to define biracial is about white and black.
“There is a whole brown America left out of that conversation,” she said.
Usually unmentioned are people of many shades of brown in the population, which include some who are Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern and Asian.
“There’s brown and black and brown and white people. There are so many different combinations of race. And the polarity (in the discourse) doesn’t take into account how complicated we are,” Mira said.
She said she feels grateful for having grown up in New Mexico because it helped her to understand – and to explain to her son – the racial mix of people.
“Good Talk” also gives the perspective of race in another culture – India – where it seems lighter skin color is prized over Mira’s nut brown complexion.
On one family visit to India, Mira’s grandmother was so concerned about her young granddaughter’s dark skin that she gave her a bottle of “Fair & Lovely” a lightening skin cream.
“For the rest of the trip,” Mira wrote, “every time I looked at myself, I would imagine the lighter, happier, prettier me.”
On return visits to India, she wrote, “… the tragedy of my skin color remained a favorite topic.”
If in India she was considered dark, back in New Mexico, it was a relief to simply be brown, though her family members looked different from other brown people in the state, Mira wrote.
Besides making an important contribution to the national conversation about what it means to be biracial, “Good Talk” pulls in related issues of identity, diversity and family.
Mira’s first novel was the critically acclaimed 2014 novel “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing,” a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick.
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“A Word With Writers” presents author Mira Jacob discussing “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations” at 7 p.m. Friday, May 24, at the KiMo Theatre, 423 Central NW. Tickets are $35 in advance at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, by calling the store at 344-8139 or at bkwrks.com or at the door. Tickets include a copy of Jacob’s book, a $5 donation to the Albuquerque Public Library Foundation and the option to add a second free ticket.
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