In The Darkroom by Susan Faludi

If this book was written as fiction, you’d never believe it because you’d think it was too far-fetched. In 2004, Susan Faludi received an email from her father (whom she hadn’t seen in twenty-five years) telling her that he’d undergone sex reassignment surgery in Thailand and would now answer to Stefanie, rather than Steve.

He thought maybe she might like to write a book about him – some kind of a trans-feminist memoir. Faludi thought that sounded like an excellent idea. After all, it’s not every day that one of the world’s most renowned feminists – who actually came to feminism in part as a reaction against her violent, controlling father – gets to meet him 25 years later as a woman.

Faludi went ‘to stay with my father in her Hungarian Schloss’, (a schloss being a German building similar to a chateau, palace or manor house – her father came from a wealthy Hungarian family). While they spent the first few days getting reacquainted, her father seemed keen to show off her new body – sometimes wearing a robe which would slip, revealing more than Faludi wanted to see of the ‘new woman’ her father had become. But behind the coquettish façade,the controlling father from Faludi’s past seemed to be ever present, essentially keeping her prisoner in the house during her stay, and flying into a rage when Faludi went ‘off script’.

Examining – among other things – the politics of sex reassignment surgery, this book reads like a psychological thriller. It shines a light on the politics of identity; on the role family and religion plays in shaping us; on what exactly goes into ‘making a person’.

This book is a fascinating read, a slice of brilliance on the nonfiction bookshelves, and no doubt Faludi is a contender for her second Pulitzer with In The Darkroom.

Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern.