Daniel J. Sharfstein's "The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White" is a history of three African-American families and how they "passed" from a black identity to a white one.
The Associated Press
'The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White'
by Daniel J. Sharfstein
Penguin Press, 396 pp., $27.95
There's no doubt law professor Daniel J. Sharfstein's sweeping history of three black families in the U.S. was impeccably researched.
Only a writer who lived and breathed his subject matter for more than six years — as noted in his acknowledgments — could write with such authority.
"The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey From Black to White" is also crafted in an immensely readable style, as Sharfstein breathes life into his long-deceased characters and their stories with phrases such as "amid the muted tones of Ohio, his Kentucky accent sounded like a fiddle out of tune" and "in the squeezing heat, it was as if all possibility of sound had evaporated."
Each family's story of "passing" from a black identity to a white one is told separately and in chronological order. The Gibsons were wealthy South Carolina landowners, the Spencers were Kentucky farmers and the Walls were among Washington's black middle class.
Photographs of his subjects could well be the highlight of the book.
While the narrative sails through the last 100 pages and races toward the conclusion, it gets bogged down in the middle. Perhaps Sharfstein knows too much or tries to tell too much, but the book could have been more effective if it had been pared down a bit by a capable editor.
Despite the book's shortcomings, Sharfstein shares the eye-opening and underreported history of black Americans making the arduous transition from slave to free against the backdrop of insurmountable odds.