Once upon a time, Louis Chude-Sokei's parents were known as "the JFK and Jackie O of Biafra," a former West African nation "that had disappeared or been 'killed.' " Half a century later, Chude-Sokei examines what it meant to be "the first son of the first son"--a sobriquet given him as a dead hero's heir--in Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, an exquisite memoir of never quite belonging.
Chude-Sokei became the "first Biafra baby" as the 1967 Nigerian-Biafran War commenced. His father was a legendary major. His parents had "been partly responsible for [Biafra's] invention." His godfather was Biafra's only president. After his father's presumed murder, his mother escaped to Jamaica, where she left young Chude-Sokei with friends while she restarted her life in the U.S. They reunited in Washington, D.C., then moved to Los Angeles; the pair lived among hoarded boxes. Stability was elusive, both geographically and personally: his maturation into adulthood was a precarious balancing of identities and expectations thrust upon him based on parentage, historical legacy, cultural assimilation and defiant rejection. Most bewildering of all were "the differences and tensions within Blackness itself," of being Black, but not "really black." That need to understand Blackness eventually led Chude-Sokei into academia; he's the director of Boston University's African American studies program.
Storytelling, Chude-Sokei realized early, is "an act of survival." Here, he writes himself into existence--his abandonment; his less-than othering; his search for manhood among interchangeable aunties; answers to his past; his return to his birthplace. Ending where he began, he comes full circle toward luminous acceptance. Readers are guaranteed an extraordinary journey. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon