Identity as a Hall of Mirrors: Descent by Lauren Russell

Identity as a Hall of Mirrors: Descent by Lauren Russell

The Rumpus

Jesi Buell (Bender)

Lauren Russell, Descent (Grafton, Vermont: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2020).

A while back, my husband and I took DNA ancestry tests. When the results come in, they give you a map with circles colored in to indicate where your ancestors came from. My husband’s blue-green circles swallowed almost the entire world. Mine, on the other hand, was a dot above England and Ireland with a small opaque dip down into Germany. One tiny point in the entirety of the world. It reminded me of a Conan O’Brien segment where he did his own test and it came back one hundred percent Irish.

I’m not sure if it was a bit but the technician told him it was a certainty that his family was inbred. Joking aside, it struck me then that how we see ourselves and how we understand the past can be, for some people, as simple as looking into a mirror and, for others, as complicated as walking through a hall of mirrors.

As a biracial woman, Lauren Russell examines her history in Descent through many mirrors, from both personal and cultural memories, and through prose, verse, and historical documents, to better understand herself. The title itself suggests a delving, a digging into, and we join Russell as she explores her family’s past like a new land, like something that has long been buried.

In my high school U.S.
History class, when we
got to the part on the
inhumanity of slave
holders, I said,
“Actually, I am
descended from slave
holders.” For some
reason nobody stated
the obvious: that I am
also descended from

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,