Twilight People: One Man's Journey to Find His Roots

Twilight People: One Man's Journey to Find His Roots

Twilight People: One Man's Journey to Find His Roots

Twilight People: One Man's Journey to Find His Roots


David Houze was twenty-six and living in a single room occupancy hotel in Atlanta when he discovered that three little girls in an old photo he'd seen years earlier were actually his sisters. The girls had been left behind in South Africa when Houze and his mother fled the country in 1966, at the height of apartheid, to start a new life in Meridian, Mississippi, with Houze's American father. This revelation triggers a journey of self-discovery and reconnection that ranges from the shores of South Africa to the dirt roads of Mississippi--and back. Gripping, vivid, and poignant, this deeply personal narrative uses the unraveling mystery of Houze's family and his quest for identity as a prism through which to view the tumultuous events of the civil rights movement in Mississippi and the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa. Twilight People is a stirring memoir that grapples with issues of family, love, abandonment, and ultimately, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is also a spellbinding detective story--steeped in racial politics and the troubled history of two continents--of one man's search for the truth behind the enigmas of his, and his mother's, lives.


One of the unwritten rules of the universe has to be that the harder you look for something, the more elusive it proves to be. But sooner or later, you do find what you’ve always been looking for, you do claim the proverbial prize—at least that’s what I told myself to justify my aching knees and the sweat now starting to trickle down my face. All around me, dog-eared books on South African history, discarded fast-food wrappers, and dirty clothes littered my closet-size room at the newly built Stratford Inn, a single room occupancy hotel near downtown Atlanta. As I frantically searched for a photograph, the usual assortment of crackheads and alcoholics argued down the hallway.

Goddamn motherfucker, keep yo’ motherfuckin’ hands off my goddamn cigarettes!

Bitch, ain’t nobody studyin’ ‘bout yo’ skanky ass! and you better git out my fuckin’ face.

The acrid smells of cigarette smoke and rancid bacon grease mixed with the howls of manic laughter now threatening to erupt into physical violence. Just another day in paradise, I brooded, while flinging the contents of a worn duffel bag all over the floor.

As the commotion from the derelicts surged and finally subsided, I found the grainy black-and-white snapshot. It was tucked in a box containing the detritus of my life: old newspapers, copies of passport applications, my diploma from the University of Georgia. Three little girls, dressed identically in gray dresses and black patent-leather shoes, stared into the camera at Crown Studios in Durban, South Africa, in 1965, the year I was born. the photograph had always been a source of mystery and wonderment for me, as if the faces depicted there would one day reveal their secrets. Only hours earlier, my mother had confirmed what I had suspected but had not been able to establish for many years: these three smiling children were my sisters.

I had phoned my mother, who lived in Detroit, from the Atlanta . . .

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