I’ve been waiting anxiously to get my hands on a copy of the graphic memoir “Good Talk” by Mira Jacob. After reading a preview of the book, I was hooked—and when it finally arrived at my door, I read it in less than 24 hours.
The book centers around questions Jacob’s son, Z, asks about his biracial identity. Jacob is east Indian, and her husband is Jewish. “Good Talk” opens with conversations Jacob had with 6-year-old Z after he became obsessed with Michael Jackson.
“Was Michael Jackson brown or was he white?”
“Well, he was black, but his skin was brown and then it… turned white.”
“He turned white?”
“Are you going to turn white?”
“Am I going to—”
“Daddy’s already white.”
“But was he always?”
Jacob’s use of humor throughout her memoir is masterful, and Z’s innocence as he attempts to navigate his biracial identity gives readers a way in, making heavy topics more accessible. Jacob then remembers the questions she asked growing up, sharing her own struggles as she tries to help her son make sense of his place in this country today.
The breadth of issues Jacob takes on is astounding, and yet this memoir never feels like it’s trying to do too much—because all of these issues are part of the fact and fabric of Jacob’s life. She writes about experiencing colorism for the first time when she visited family in India who thought she was too dark, saying, “I’d been the wrong color in America my whole life. But it hurt worse somehow, knowing it was the same in a country full of people who (I had thought) looked like me.”
She writes about winning a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest in elementary school in which the winner was invited to a luncheon to read her essay aloud and accept the winner’s certificate. When her teacher submitted her photo for the program and the selection committee realized Jacob was brown, they gave her teacher the wrong address to the luncheon.
She writes about being mistaken for the help at her mother-in-law’s “Bark Mitzvah”—yes, that is a Bar Mitzvah for the family dog. When she relates this experience to her mother-in-law, who subsequently expresses doubt, she writes, “Sometimes, you go along with it and pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, you hold your breath until the feeling of wanting to be believed passes. Sometimes, you weigh explaining against staying quiet and know they’re both just different kinds of heavy.”
She writes about the hope she felt when Obama was elected—a mixed race president just like her son, which opened up a new place in the world for him.
She writes about feeling abandoned by her in-laws when they voted for Trump, which puts a strain on their relationship.
And this is just scratching the surface. Jacob concludes the book with “The Talk We Haven’t Had”—a message to her son, Z, that is equal measures heart-wrenching and hopeful.
I’ve never read anything like “Good Talk,” and not only because it’s a memoir told in the style of a graphic novel. Jacob offers an honest and raw look at the impact of our current political climate on her family. It made me laugh, cry, hurt, hope and think. What more can a reader ask for?
Reviewer Adison Godfrey is a former graduate assistant at WPSU.