Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Author Shows Us World Through Someone Else’s Eyes

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?

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