Slaves in the Family
Edward Ball has done what few white Americans have dared: he's searched the dusty annals of his family history to uncover specifics of the slave-holding that made their riches and social standing possible. Told in an occasionally cumbersome narrative form, Slaves documents Ball's foray into his family's morally compromised past and its miscegenated present. Race relations in America — antebellum and afterward — were characterized by a chilling domestic intimacy (often irrupted into by nonconsensual sexual relations) coexisting with a violently enforced separation. Because of this fearsome history, for whites or blacks to talk about or seek their close relatives of the 'opposite' race has been largely taboo — which makes Ball's breaking of the silence surrounding the color line and his determination to meet with living black relatives all the more fascinating. Judges of the National Book Award agree, having voted Slaves the 1998 nonfiction winner.