(Amazon) A pioneering, dazzling satire about a biracial black girl from Philadelphia searching for her Jewish father in New York City
Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in 70s pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery like no other.
In 1974, Fran Ross published her first and only novel, “Oreo.” The satirical tale of a biracial teenager’s Theseus-style quest to find her father was almost completely overlooked in its era. Now, more than 4 decades later, its re-issue is being met with critical praise. Producer Mythili Rao explores why Ross’s take on racial identity was so ahead of its time. (podcast)
“Oreo,” its first time around, in 1974, had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Save for a few amused and somewhat confused reviews in Ms. magazine and Esquire, it apparently didn’t speak to the wider cultural landscape of the moment. It came out only two years before that other novel, the cultural sensation, Alex Haley’s “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” While “Oreo” may have been one of the least-known novels of the decade, “Roots” went on to become the single most popular novel of the decade. It occupied the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-seller list for twenty-two weeks. It was adapted into one of the most-watched television miniseries of all time.
NEW YORKER coverage: HERE