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I am halfway through “The Golden Road: Notes on My Gentrification” (2007) by Caille Millner. I fell in love when I read the title and have not looked back since.

It is a story about growing up black in America, but in this one the hero grows up knowing almost no black people. That is because her parents try to live in places with the best schools. It gets her into Harvard – where she meets other blacks just like her – but it leaves her without knowing who she is.

So it is her story about finding out who she is. Along the way she takes us to the Chicano part of San Jose in the 1980s, Silicon Valley in the 1990s, Harvard and even South Africa. In South Africa she discovers that it is only in and through America that she will ever understand herself.

Like Tolkien and Rushdie, she makes you feel like you are there. It is almost as if her memories become your memories.

She is clear-eyed, for the most part. She does not pretty things up or avoid certain subjects. She does not look at American life with rose-coloured glasses like most people do.

Some say it is just stories from her life, that it does not add up to anything. I can see that. It is certainly true for the first half of the book, but part of what makes me push on is that I hope she comes to answers of some sort, not just observations.

Her parents taught her to do well in school to make the world a better place. That is how they were brought up. But the people she grows up among do not seem to have any higher purpose than their own comfort and looking good to others. People are not deep, not even when they seem to be. Not even at Harvard. It breaks her heart.

She assumes people are noble and is constantly brought up short by how small-minded they are. Even people she trusts and looks up to, like her teachers. Sometimes it is because of racism, sometimes not.

She does not know who she is, but then she finds that few do.

She thinks that to be black she has to somehow be a part of Black America, a place she only knows of through books and television. Being black becomes a matter of wearing certain clothes and listening to certain kinds of music. The Wigger Fallacy. Only later does she learn that it is nothing like that.

Postscript: I am now done reading it and, yes, there were no answers at the end, just more observations. She presents her life and you draw what conclusions you want from it. I wished she had talked less about the men in her life, particularly the hacker and the Englishman, and more about trying to make sense of who she is. But then that is how life is: no easy answers.

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