In the Darkroom
By Susan Faludi
Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co.
Parents may prove a mystery to their children, at least some of the time. Thankfully most kids don’t have to deal with their father having a sex change at 76 (or any age, for that matter). American journalist Susan Faludi’s father was Holocaust survivor Steven, until he went to Thailand and became Stefánie. Here was a profoundly shocking development for noted feminist Faludi to interpret, having previously been familiar with a man who was macho, overbearing and violent – hardly someone she suspected of harbouring transgender leanings.
After a long alienation from her father, Faludi visits Stefánie, now back in the latter’s native Hungary, to try to understand and ultimately forgive. Disturbingly, she finds someone inhabiting an undeniably seedy world not easily explained away by any Holocaust horrors, but one reflected in bizarre personal photographs the author is obliged to inspect. Her father had once worked as a photograph developer – hence this disconcerting book’s title. Having morphed from “rugged outdoorsman” and “household despot [with] phallocratic views” into a hybrid in blouse and blonde wig, Stefánie finally reveals herself to Faludi as someone she never knew.