Mira Jacob’s Good Talk is about how people of color are treated in the United States. Jacob, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is darker-skinned than the rest of the family, which is a problem for those Indians she encounters who seem to be at least as color-conscious as the racists — both overt and in denial — all around her. The memoir shows Jacob navigating this unsettling world from her early life in New Mexico, where she is one of only a handful of South Asians, to college to life in New York City. The book jumps around in time and place, but special emphasis is given to New York pre- and post-9/11, during the Obama years, and, above all, in the months leading up to Trump’s election.
The Trump era is especially painful for Jacob because her beloved Jewish in-laws are Trump supporters who refuse to see how that support might alienate Jacob, her husband, and their son, Z. Born just before Obama’s election, Z is sometimes blissfully naïve about racial matters, but that never stops him asking hard questions, which Jacob frequently has trouble answering.
Good Talk is a graphic memoir, and the conversations of the title take place between characters rendered in semi-realistic black-and-white drawings. These images are placed on top of generic color backgrounds — usually stock photos — and the same drawings are used over and over. The visual effect is something like watching a very sophisticated game of paper dolls. That might sound stiff and silly, but this is, after all, a book about color.
Moreover, Jacob is primarily a writer, and the odd conceit is almost forgotten once we focus on her words: Captions and speech and thought balloons often fill up the majority of a page. Like any good memoirist, Jacob shows us what it’s like to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Is there any better reason to read a book?