Title: The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
I read this in two days. I enjoyed it that much. I had also wanted to go to a reading that the author was giving at the American Library of Paris, and thought it best to at least attend the reading, having actually read the book. I did not make the reading however, but I learnt a great deal about what growing up in the West Baltimore, in the years post the civil rights era was like.
Coates was raised in a somewhat unconventional household, by a former Black Panther father, this in not the unconventional part , what is was his growing up as one of seven siblings, with four different mothers. What makes his story different is that this is not the tale of an absentee father and growing up in a black neighbourhood in the 80s. His is a story of the stability provided by that very unconventionality; of an early exposure to “Afro-centric” books – which he was introduced to by his father, who ran a small publishing company in the basement of their house; and of coming of age conscious and aware as a black man in America.
The other son, that makes the subtitle of the book is Coates’ brother, Bill. He was street smart and tough, to Ta-Nehisi’s bookishness and reserve. He was the one that taught the postering and tough-talking and calling out to the “jenny’s”; whilst his father encouraged him to read and use his mind. Coates writes easily of his other siblings, who were always in and out of their house, their mothers and the easy way everyone co-existed in this very unconventional family.
Throughout the book, the author refers to his father as the Conscious man. A man that was unconventional is all ways, from the naming of his children – Ta-Nehisi was not exactly a common name in West Baltimore – to the camps that he and his fellow former Blank Panther friends – the Conscious, had their children attend in order to learn about where they came from as African-Americans and to be proud of it. He forbade eating on Thanksgiving, in protest of gluttony, and of the Native American uprising in Attica; he was a self-taught intellectual that worked at Howard University, so that his children could study there.
Growing up, his father was the epitome of uncool, and it is only in his older years that Coates becomes aware of the struggle that his father went through to raise five black boys, in a tough, unforgiving Baltimore neighbourhood, when the possibility of them falling into drugs or ending up in prison was always ominously present.
This was a very good read which I would highly recommend.