Can DNA solve a family mystery – or two?

blurbless coverLong before she wrote The Juggler’s Children, a finalist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award in Non-fiction, Carolyn Abraham was simply a kid who couldn’t tell her friends where her family came from: it took too long to explain. A child of colour, three continents, and, it seemed, too many countries to list, she would frequently ask her parents a deceptively simple question: “What are we?”

The family tree wasn’t much help. On each side loomed great-grandfathers shrouded in mystery. One was a sea captain and the other a circus juggler. Both were nomadic men who turned up in India in the nineteenth century, and neither stuck around long enough to dispel or confirm the legends that grew up around him. One died young, a hero, and the other, an alleged murderer, disappeared. Leaving behind little more than their genetic legacies, they and their stories had haunted Carolyn since childhood.

As she reported on developments in genetics, she began to wonder – could the genes these men passed down to her family somehow reveal the secrets they took to their graves?

Filled with the humour and warmth of the most engaging family memoirs, and the suspense of unearthing the genetic stories hidden in us all, national bestseller The Juggler’s Children is a global journey that speaks to the heart and mind. It’s a poignant ride through history and modern science that raises moral quandaries and explores the power of our DNA to upend family myth, or cement it. As she searches for answers from India, China, Jamaica, the United States and Canada, Carolyn Abraham strips bare the fabrications of race and makes clear that in all the world there really is only one family tree.

The Juggler’s Children is available in Canada.

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Advance Praise for The Juggler’s Children

“With this daring act of tracing her genetic genealogy all the way back to its widely scattered origins, Carolyn Abraham redefines the meaning of the expression ‘know thyself.’ The Juggler’s Children is as exciting as any explorer’s account of the discovery of a new land, as carefully written as a fine novel, as rigorous as it is entertaining. But its greatest achievement is its astonishing, profoundly moving findings, its proof that the human race is, in fact, one family after all.”

Ian Brown, award-winning author of The Boy in the Moon

“The Juggler’s Children is simultaneously a compelling family mystery and brilliant science writing. As she cracks her own family’s genetic code, Carolyn Abraham makes the complexities of DNA and the genetic linkages that bind us immediately accessible. Deciphering the Y chromosomes of her male relatives takes her from the tea plantations of India’s Nilgiri Hills to the sugar cane estates of Jamaica’s north coast, and from simple questions to the hard truths of genealogy, where paternity can come as a shock and an ancestor who joined a traveling circus may have been escaping a criminal past. The book, quite simply, is a great read.”

Dr. Miriam Shuchman, prize-winning author of The Drug Trial

“Combining traditional journalistic digging with the cutting edge science of genetic genealogy, Carolyn Abraham takes us on a witty and engaging journey across India, China, Europe and Jamaica in search of her polyglot family ancestry. Along the way, she separates legend and fact, individual and group identity, deftly unspooling the why? in the Y chromosome. In the end, she vividly demonstrates that inside the microcosmic gene pool of a single Canadian family—and thus all families—we will find the vast history of humanity. Whether princes or paupers, slaves or slave-drivers, we’re all the same under the skin.”

James FitzGerald, author of What Disturbs Our Blood

Winner of the Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize