The Professors Daughter

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A daughter’s future and her father’s past converge in this explosive first novel exploring identity, assimilation, and the legacy of race.

“My father is black and my mother is white and my brother is a vegetable.” When Emma Boudreaux’s older brother, Bernie, winds up in a coma after a freak accident, it’s as if she loses a part of herself. All their lives, he has served as her compass, her stronger, better half: Bernie was brilliant when Emma was smart, charismatic when she was awkward, and confident when she was shy. Only Bernie was able to navigate – if not always diplomatically – the terrain of their biracial identity. Now, as the chronic rash that’s flared up throughout her life returns with a vengeance, Emma is sleepwalking through her first year at college, left alone to grow into herself.  The key to Emma’s self-discovery lies in her father’s past. Esteemed Princeton professor Bernard Boudreaux is emotionally absent and secretive about his family history. Little does Emma know just how haunted that history is, how tortured the path from the Deep South town to his present Ivy League success has been. Though her father and brother are bound by the past, Emma might just escape.  In exhilarating, magical prose, The Professor’s Daughter traces the borderlands of race and family, the contested territory that gives birth to rage, confusion, madness, and invisibility. This striking debut marks the arrival of an astonishingly original voice that surges with energy and purpose.

Reviews

Publishers Weekly – Starred Review.  A thoughtful, satisfying meditation on race and family history, Raboteau’s novel is that rare debut by a young author that stands out not for its stylistic swagger or precocity, but for its simple grace and absolute wisdom. The title character, Emma Boudreaux, and her “twin” brother, Bernie, are the products of an interracial marriage and an unconventional household. But while Bernie embraces his blackness, Emma is less sure about who she is; still, she chooses to defer to her brother and their shared “skin.” As an adolescent she only vaguely grasps the mysterious legacy of her black father, who went from an impoverished, segregated Mississippi childhood-his own father having been publicly lynched-to an esteemed academic career at Princeton University. That her father is often absent from family life only deepens Emma’s connection with her brother. But when Bernie falls into a coma after a freak accident, Emma, now a freshman at Yale, is forced to reevaluate her identity. With shifting points of view, the novel weaves together unexpected fragments, like a paper Emma “wrote” for a post-colonial African novel class and her comatose brother’s lucid dreams. Drawing from the traditions of African storytelling, the novel maps a mythically rich terrain without ever leaving the confines of American realism. Raboteau, who has already won awards for her fiction, has an assured voice that illuminates pain as acutely as love, and this book flaunts her exceptional storytelling talents.

 “Raboteau is a gorgeous writer, one whose prose is not only delicious but empathic—she writes emotion in a way that just works.”
—Bookslut

The Professor’s Daughter intensely treats with a young life, the strains of an interracial family and the seemingly hopeless vicissitudes of adolescence. Sometimes funny, and at other times horrifying, it’s always riveting and alive. This is a first rate job, a book that shows great subtlety and skill.”
Robert Stone, author of Bay Of Souls and Damascus Gate

The Professor’s Daughter is an exciting debut by an enchanting writer whose singular voice makes every page of this novel exceptional. Emily Raboteau is funny and moving in the tradition of our best novelists. This elegant novel heralds the arrival of an important new writer with something to say. I can’t wait to read her next book, and the ones after that.”
Katharine Weber, author of The Little WomenThe Music LessonObjects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

“Emily Raboteau’s prose is generous and precise, yet it is also lush and sensual and smart, without any tricks of forced irony. These qualities alone would make The Professor’s Daughter memorable, but what sets it apart is its honest portrayal of characters who are entirely real because their author has summoned the courage to write nakedly and honestly about them. This is a moving and significant work by a truly gifted and important new writer among us.”
Andre Dubus III

“The world that Emily Raboteau has so wonderfully created here is at turns harsh, beautiful, strange, and always real. The language of this novel is lyrical, yet precise, at once dissecting the notion of biracial existence and, correctly, stripping it of any currency. This work is unflinchingly intelligent.”
Percival Everett, author of Erasure

“(Raboteau’s) prose is vibrant with life…Her timing is excellent, her humor is wry, her voice is on point and her eye works with laserlike precision. Raboteau’s sensitivity to life and to people is nothing short of astounding”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Fearless and lyrically inventive, Raboteau is a writer to watch”
O: The Oprah Magazine

“Raboteau tackles racism and racial violence in her dark, twisting semi-autobiographical novel, The Professor’s Daughter. But what sets this profound debut apart and should ensure its success is not only its thematic cultural relevance but the immediacy and authenticity of its narrative.”
Elle

“Emily Raboteau’s engaging first novel, The Professor’s Daughter, takes up the fundamental American obsession with racial categorization and acknowledges the claims that the history of such categorization makes on the individual”
Chicago Tribune

“Raboteau’s lyrical yet clear writing style lends itself well to this story, which is often both terrifying and beautiful… A book with resonating themes and a powerful storyline, The Professor’s Daughter is a strong debut from a talented writer.”
Bookpage