Susan Faludi, Pulitzer Prize-winner and research fellow for Bowdoin’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department, read excerpts from her new memoir, “In the Darkroom,”  to a packed audience in Massachusetts Hall on Wednesday.

Published in June after 12 years in the making, “In the Darkroom” details Faludi’s reunion with her estranged father, Stephanie—formerly Steve—Faludi, who had undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Brock Clarke, professor of English and organizer of the event, said that the reason the novel is unique to him is because it is “difficult to pin down.” 

“If you start describing it one way, you realize you’re leaving out a bunch of other things,” said Clarke. “It’s about her reuniting with her [father]. It’s a travel book, it’s about the Jewish diaspora after World War II, it’s about what it’s like to live in Nazi-occupied territory during World War II.” 

Focused primarily on Stephanie Faludi’s various identities throughout her lifetime, the memoir begins with an email from Faludi’s father titled “Changes,” in which Stephanie Faludi informed Susan Faludi of her gender reassignment. 

“My father had been silent for so many years,” said Susan Faludi in an interview with the Orient. “As a young child, I had always been pressing her for stories about life and would get nowhere.”

“My father was kind of an identity zelig; one way of looking at her life is a lifelong struggle of era-defining identity crises,” Susan Faludi said during the event. 

Stephanie Faludi was a wealthy Jewish child in Hungary before World War II. During the Holocaust, she survived by passing as Christian with false identity papers and a Nazi armband. 

After the war, she went to the U.S. at a time described by Susan Faludi as “the height of very traditional gender roles and assumed the posture of the all-American commuter, suburban dad with a barbecue grill and big Christmas tree." 

Afterward, she reinvented herself again by moving back to Hungary and supporting the right-wing regime, before traveling to Thailand for gender-reassignment surgery. 

Susan Faludi added that writing about her father was the most challenging journalistic assignment she has ever taken, but she felt that she needed to write about this experience for herself, as both a writer and as a daughter.

“I’m a writer and that’s how I come to terms with things I don’t understand,” she said in an interview with the Orient. “Whether it got published or not, to figure it out in my own life, figure out my relationship with my father.”

Susan Faludi said that her journalistic approach to the experience of reacquainting with her father served well as a buffer for her and for her father to get comfortable with each other once again. 

“It was a way for my father, who was a pretty closed person, to open up, and [it] gave me comfort, as someone who knows how to be a reporter,” she said on Wednesday afternoon. “In the end, I had to accept the fact that I was as much as participant as observer in this story.”

Beyond coming to terms with her own experience, Susan Faludi’s specialty is in gender research. 

“I felt that I couldn’t continue to write honestly about gender without admitting to my own experience,” she added. 

“I see a lot of connective tissue between my father’s story and the books I’ve written earlier,” she added. “All of my books are grappling with the ways gender mythologies distort and damage people’s lives. This was just a very vivid, personal, individual window into that."

Faludi said that in order for her to understand her father, she needed to understand the broader political and cultural background of each era in which her father lived. 

“At every step, there are deep historical dynamics at work that I needed to understand to understand how my father perceived each of these roles,” she said. “All of these were essential to my grappling with my father’s struggle and to grapple with the larger question in the book, which is the question about the meaning the of identity.”