“Extraordinary and wide-ranging . . . a literary feat that simultaneously builds and excavates identity.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club Pick • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize • An acclaimed writer goes searching for the truth about her complicated Southern family—and finds that our obsession with ancestors opens up new ways of seeing ourselves—in this “brilliant mix of personal memoir and cultural observation” (The Boston Globe). ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, NPR, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Esquire, Garden & Gun Maud Newton’s ancestors have fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father was said to have married thirteen times. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook. Mental illness and religious fanaticism percolated Maud’s maternal lines back to an ancestor accused of being a witch in Puritan-era Massachusetts. Newton’s family inspired in her a desire to understand family patterns: what we are destined to replicate and what we can leave behind. She set out to research her genealogy—her grandfather’s marriages, the accused witch, her ancestors’ roles in slavery and other harms. Her journey took her into the realms of genetics, epigenetics, and debates over intergenerational trauma. She mulled over modernity’s dismissal of ancestors along with psychoanalytic and spiritual traditions that center them. Searching and inspiring, Ancestor Trouble is one writer’s attempt to use genealogy—a once-niche hobby that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry—to make peace with the secrets and contradictions of her family's past and face its reverberations in the present, and to argue for the transformational possibilities that reckoning with our ancestors offers all of us.