©2008 Ta-Nehisi Coates; (P)2008 Recorded Books,LLC
Coates memoir of his boyhood-to-manhood years was an interesting read. The language and tone is quite different from his current writing at the Atlantic; fortunately, those unfamiliar with the slang in the book can get help from the internet (I had to Google phrases like "giving dap"). I am so unfamiliar with the world of his youth - I read this knowing nothing of black boys growing up in the city during the crack era. Coates lyrically describes his life and the ways it typified and departed from the life of his peers. It was a very worthwhile read and well-performed by the reader.
Ta-Nehisi Coates blogs for the Atlantic Monthly. I'd been reading his blog for quite awhile when it occured to me that this book might be available on audible. It's an excellent introduction to Ta-Nehisi's life and world-view, particularly the role played by his father, Paul Coates, of Black Classic Press. Read his blog--he's a rising public intellectual and just very wise on many fronts. Additionally, JD Jackson captures the voice I hear when I read Ta-Nehisi's blog, and taught me to correctly pronounce his name (Ta-neh-HA-si), which I'd been mispronouncing for a long time.
Love love love this story!!! So elegantly expressed that I often used my 39 second rewind option and jotted down quotes. I learn so much about the experience of young black kids growing up in Baltimore in the 80's.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"But all of us need myths. And here out West, where we all had lost religion, and had taken to barbarian law, what would deb our magic? What would be sacred words?"
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle
Beautiful. Haunting. Rythmic. Pulsing with life, love, and the development of consciousness. This is a memoir of a peer. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one year younger than me. We grew up watching the same things through different lenses. Watching the same play from vastly different seats. His was a lens of black America in West Baltimore. I was born a military brat, the son of a veterinarian and officer. My father was born to parents who hadn't graduated from high school, but through grit and determination, and the help of the military, put himself through college and UC Davis veterinary school. I was born into the privilege carved out of my father's grit.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#1): "I was a black boy at the height of the crack era, which meant that my instructors pitched education as the border between those who would prosper in America, and those who would be fed to the great hydra of prison, teenage pregnancy and murder."
— "School as Wonder, or Way Out," New York Times Magazine
But even with my father's boot-strap story, it is hard to look at my life as anything other than a collection of privilege. There were times when I was teased, perhaps, because of my ears. There were parents who were wary of their kids hanging out with a Mormon. But all of those slights and scars of youth seem insignificant and trivial compared to Coates and his peers of black youth (and their nervous mothers) raised in West Baltimore in the 80s. What I took for wind, in my life, was a breeze. What I thought was a mountain, in my path, was only a hill.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#2): ""The greatest reward of this constant interrogation, confrontation with the brutality of my country, is that it has freed me from hosts and myths."
—"Letter To My Son," The Atlantic"
But the fantastic thing about good memoirs and Coates' memoir in particular is that you never feel outside the story. His journey -- despite the distance of space, AND because of the proximity of time, and the universality of fathers and sons -- is infinitely relatable. I understand his father, because I know my own father. I understand his insecurities, his vulnerabilities and his fears, his transformation between oblivion and consciousness, because I have walked that path. Not HIS path, but one that is etched through the same years. So, despite the severe differences between a black boy in Baltimore and a white boy in Orem, Coates is able to paint a bridge of words that gives me access. That allows me safe passage to another's core, a place to better understand him, but also better understand myself.
Ta-Nehisi Coates' Quotes (#3): "I would always be a false move away. I would always have the dagger at my throat."
— The Beautiful Struggle
This book reads like a poem. It was descriptive enough that I could see through his eyes and recall so much of it. I grew up in DC during these times and you would only know to live it.
I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' most recent book, Between the World and Me, earlier this year. It gave me a new perspective on racial divides and the African-American struggle. I am white and grew up in a rural northwestern town without even one African American family. Coates has invoked in me yearnings for knowledge of racial injustice and desire for change of the status quo.
These newfound yearnings led me to Coates' first book, The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir of his boyhood, adolescence and journey into manhood living in Baltimore. He discusses his blended family, his father's history with the Black Panther movement and later transitioning towards activism through writing and publishing. He discusses the violence of local neighborhoods and schools. What Coates describes best, though, is the mindset of an adolescence. The awkwardness one feels during that time is ineffable to most, yet Coates weaves through the chaos of it all beautifully. His lack of self-awareness, his lack of understanding of the bigger picture in life, his lack of a purpose. These attributes know no racial/cultural/gender boundaries. We all struggle through adolescence on a quest toward adulthood.
If this was the struggle to which Coates was writing about, he would have completely succeeded. However, he seemed to be writing to an overarching racial struggle but there was no clear thesis. Also, I could not tell his audience. Was he writing to African-Americans? To whites to better understand the African American struggle? He seemed to vacillate between the two and thus both over and under- explained his points.
Coates uses superb diction and the choice of narration for the audiobook was superb! Glad I read this book, but definitely not as masterful as his more recent work.
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