In his blurb on the back of the book, Marlon James states that “New People” reminds us that “the worst kind of hell is always the one we raise”, and I don’t think I can put it any better. This is a book about identity and obsession, perfection and truth.
Maria and her fiancé Khalil are mixed race, mulatta and mulatto, planning their wedding and ready to embark on their life together as “new people”. By their definition, new people are “the progeny of the Renaissance of Interracial Unions” in late 60s and early 70s. They are a picturesque couple, though Maria is not content. She is light skinned with straight hair, people often assuming she is Jewish or white, and struggles to find her place among her peers. She becomes infatuated with a black man known only as “the poet”, leaving the reader to contemplate what she’s running from, and what she’s chasing.
It’s the 90’s, and Maria is observing how her generation of mixed people adapt to the world – how Khalil speaks differently around his white friend Ethan than he does around other “new people”. Maria starts to do strange things, and her behavior grows increasingly bizarre, embarrassing, and self-destructive. We’re never witness to the eruption, but you can feel it on the horizon. As an adopted child of a black mother, it’s easy to understand Maria’s sense of lost identity.
I really enjoyed Senna’s style – honest, dry wit that kept me flipping the pages quickly. There’s also a thread throughout this book about Jonestown which I haven’t touched on, but it certainly adds a dynamic layer to the whole story. This book won’t be for everyone, but it hit a surprising chord with me (I’m mixed as well). I’ll be picking up Senna’s book “Caucasia” soon!