Synopsis: MAMA’S CHILD follows twenty-three years in the life of Lizzie O’Leary, an idealistic young white woman who travels to the American South as a civil rights worker. She meets, falls in love with, and marries Solomon Jordan, a musician and fellow activist, who is black. Together, the young couple settles in the more liberal San Francisco area and starts a family: daughter Ruby, and son Che. They remain deeply involved in the Black Liberation Movement: participating in protest marches, and living in a home filled with Black Power posters, jazz, protest songs, and visiting Black Panthers.
But by 1978, when the novel opens, there is tension between the couple. Solomon’s music career keeps him away from home too much, and Lizzie is frustrated: “I need you here. I can’t raise these kids by myself. And they need a black parent, some days I just don’t know what to do.” Eventually, the strain becomes unbearable, and they divorce when their children are still young.
Their divorce deeply affects daughter Ruby, who is already suffering from a confused sense of self—“Am I black or white?” she continually asks herself. “Where do I belong?” She struggles with her own racial identity as well as her anger at her mother for splitting up the family. As for mother Lizzie, despite her attempts at trying to hold on to the emotional cord that binds them, the rift between mother and daughter widens.
It isn’t until Ruby herself becomes a wife and mother that she begins to develop compassion and understanding for the many ways that her own mother’s love transcended race and questions of identity.
Told in chapters alternating between the voices of the mother and daughter, MAMA’S CHILD goes deep into the raw emotions of love, family, and ancestry– from two points of view.