The Professor's Daughter A Novel

Emily Raboteau




Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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A daughter's future and her father's past converge in this novel about identity, assimilation, and the legacy of race in America. 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 II is emotionally absent and secretive about his family history. Little does Emma know just how haunted that history is, how tortured the path has been from his Deep South roots to his present Ivy League success. But although her father and brother are bound by the past, Emma herself might just escape. The Professor's Daughter traces the borderlands of race and family, the contested territory that gives birth to rage, confusion, madness, and invisibility.


Praise for The Professor's Daughter

"Compelling . . . Raboteau paints Emma's world with grand, sweeping strokes. Her prose is vibrant with life: Here is a crazy woman, here a downtrodden old man, here a homesick Ethiopian. 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."—Francesca Wodtke, San Francisco Chronicle

"Engaging . . . 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 tackles racism and racial violence in her dark, twisting, semi-autobiographical novel . . . 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

"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 . . . A strong debut from a talented writer."Bookpage

"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

"An exciting debut by an enchanting writer whose singular voice makes every page of this novel exceptional. 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."—Katharine Weber, author of The Little Women and The Music Lesson

"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."—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog

"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

"An award-winning storywriter's first novel underscores the effects of racism on three generations of an African-American family. 'My father is black and my mother is white and my brother is a vegetable,' explains Emma Boudreaux, sometime narrator of this nonlinear story of the Boudreaux family—including Emma's grandfather, father and brother. Professor Bernard Boudreaux Junior (BJ), the first black dean of Princeton's Graduate School of Arts and Science, grew up poor and disabled in Mississippi. A scholarship to a privileged school taught him that if he could not be white, like his tormenting peers, then he must achieve. But despite marriage to a white woman, 'so my children wouldn't inherit our misery,' BJ can't escape his legacy: the brutal, racist murder of his father, the first Bernard, an act that drove his mother insane. Bernie, Emma's gifted brother, is beautiful 'the way a leopard is. Or twilight.' But Bernie is destroyed when he accidentally urinates on a live rail line and is electrocuted, rendering him 'raceless, faceless,' with skin like raw meat, and brain-dead. Raboteau's reliance on unnuanced symbolism continues with Emma's occasional but extreme skin eruptions, which sometimes divide one side of her face from the other, 'an outer manifestation of my inner state.' Bernie's accident takes place six weeks after Emma's arrival at Yale. His eventual death and her abandonment by a lover who shares her skin color precipitate flight, first to New Orleans, then New York. On 9/11, she is attacked for looking Arabic. Finally, in Brazil, she reaches a place where everyone 'looked like some permutation of her' so she can 'begin.' This triple-decker history of socially encouraged, physically expressed self-loathing [takes] flight . . . in that of BJ's anguish and isolation, where Raboteau does succeed in articulating a sense of true pain. Part literary saga, part litany of righteous parables: an impassioned, poetic work that offers commitment."—Kirkus Reviews
"Raboteau deftly allows readers to experience Emma's myriad parts as she splinters in an attempt to grapple with being the brown daughter of a white mother and a black father. The intersections of race and class, played out in upscale Princeton, N.J., where Emma's father teaches, give resonance. Likewise, the treatment of sexual politics—among adults as well as youth—adds complexity to an unusual coming-of-age tale. Highly recommended."—Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, New York, Library Journal (starred review)
"In this powerful and unflinchingly stark story, Emma Boudreaux often reaches into the past to try to understand the present. Her father is black and her mother is white, and the teen is trying to find her place in a world in which she feels like an outsider. Her brother, Bernie, strong and perfect and comfortable with his blackness, is her anchor, her compass. When he has a freak accident and becomes a 'vegetable,' Emma feels abandoned and emotionally isolated. Left alone to discover who she is, she explores the past, especially her father's, Princeton professor Bernard Boudreaux. His own narrative reveals grim secrets and a twisted, tortured journey through family history to the present. At its darkest and most painful is the lynching of his father before he was born. It will take all of Emma's strength and resolve to survive, and to escape the shadowy and painful legacies that ensnared her father and brother. Raboteau's writing is vivid, compelling, and fearless as she tackles themes of racial violence, anger, family secrets, and self-discovery. The author changes perspective several times, from Emma to her father and even to Bernie in his comatose state, showing how each character is shaped by time and history. Readers will enjoy the history woven into the superb storytelling as Raboteau skillfully interweaves past and present events to reveal that love does somehow survive."—Susanne Bardelson, Kitsap Regional Library, School Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



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Emily Raboteau is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and teaches creative writing at the City College of New York.
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  • Emily Raboteau

  • Emily Raboteau holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, where she was a New York Times Fellow. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction, and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship. Her stories have been published in Tin House, The Missouri Review, and Best American Short Stories 2003. Raboteau lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at the City College of New York.



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