Futureface raises urgent questions having to do with history and complicity. Wagner is determined to look at her family with the coldest eye, making excuses for no one ... Such ungenerous assessments aren’t necessarily inaccurate; Wagner knows her family better than I do. But in her push to dismantle some cherished myths, her book starts to feel bloodless, so shorn of sentiment that Wagner’s project loses the profoundly personal feelings that animated it in the first place. It would be one thing if she uncovered definitive evidence of a real whopper, an astounding family secret; what she discovers instead are the kinds of skeletons — illegitimacy, hypocrisy, selective memory, callous prejudice — that are distressing, but also distressingly common. These ordinary cruelties might not make for riveting journalism, but they make for a rich and revealing memoir ... Wagner’s skepticism and irreverence are so polished that you want to get a better sense of what motivates them. But the harsh light she shines on those around her can be so blinding that we lose sight of who she is.
Regardless of whether Wagner solved her mystery, the journey is worth taking; it serves as a welcome reminder that tribalism and xenophobia are dangerous but ultimately futile threats ... A timely investigation that turns up 'sad confirmation that animus and violence and expulsion always end up screwing everyone, even the people doing the expelling.'
Wagner’s white paternal line yields less dramatic material, and her attempts to spice it up with an imagined secret Jewish heritage and a hypothetical smuggling narrative feel strained. Along the way, she navigates sinister archival bureaucracies and plunges into the sometimes dubious world of DNA ancestry tests. Wagner’s odyssey is an effective riposte to anti-immigrant politics in what she sees as a mixed-race—or 'futureface'—world.