In 2004, after a 25-year estrangement, Susan Faludi’s father reappeared in her life via email. ‘I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man I have never been inside,’ it read, and was signed, ‘Love from your parent, Stefánie.’ The 77-year-old had embarked on a new life as a woman, both a dramatic abruption and the continuation of a biography full of reinvention. He was born as a Hungarian Jew called István Friedman, survived the Holocaust thanks to a talent for imitating Nazis, adopted the name Faludi to show he was ‘100 per cent Hungarian’, and later settled in the US, where he became Stephen Faludi, archetypal ‘American Dad’ and, as a photographer, a master manipulator of images.
In 2014, Stefánie Faludi died, and In the Darkroom is a memoir of the fraught reacquaintance between father and daughter. It’s also a record of Stefánie Faludi’s extraordinary life, and an unsettling interrogation of that modern obsession, identity. ‘Who is the person you “were meant to be”?’ asks Faludi. ‘Is who you are what you make of yourself, the self you fashion into being, or is it determined by your inheritance and all its fateful forces, genetic, familial, ethnic, religious, cultural, historical?’ Primo Levi asked If This Is a Man. Faludi looks at her father Stefánie and wonders, is this a woman? Is this a Jew? Is this a Hungarian? How much of the thing we call a self is truly negotiable?