Chris's Reviews > The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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's review
Apr 19, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fast-fun-and-fabulous, political

Along with "Dreams from my Father," I want to add this to the Coming of Age / Memoir unit I teach. Ta-Nehisi is a fantastic writing, and the book moves along with a lightness and wit (I finished the book in under 24 hours) that belies the seriousness of his subject.

Stylistically, the book feels as if it were written effortlessly, yet is filled with clever and knowing asides that don't feel forced. That Coates can retain the straight power of street slang while mixing in references to Dungeons and Dragons, then switch into academic prose, all in the same paragraph and make it all feel natural and unforced, is impressive. Yes, it reflects his life and upbringing, but not everyone could make such disparate fragments of identity cohere.

One reason I'd love to add this book into the Coming of Age cannon is that while Coates is now a very successful journalist, he was strictly average growing up. This might not seem like much of a selling point, but my problem with most memoirs is that even if they reflect the sort of world and struggles that my students are faced with, the protagonists themselves are usually extraordinary in some way (as most authors, unsurprisingly are, since writing a book isn't what your Everyman does), and thus somewhat apart from my students. "Street" memoirs tend to hit the two ends of the spectrum: a) genius and/or artist honors student type has to survive the Harsh Realities of the Street and Escape, or b) hard ghetto thug gang-banger has some Enlightening Experience and Changes His Ways. I love Malcolm X's autobiography and push it on all my students, but his is not an easy example to emulate, either in its depths (drug-dealing, gun-toting pimp) or heights (overnight conversion to Islam, national Civil Rights leader).

Coates, on the other hand, is very much an "everyman." He's naturally smart but lazy, wants to save face and look tough but not much of a fighter and essentially a wimp. He prefers comics and role-playing games over gang-banging, and really just wants to fit in. Of course, much of his story is not everyman at all -- his father is a Black Panther running a publishing house devoted to forgotten black authors out of his basement, who fathers seven children with five different women. What you get out of the story isn't a freak show of "look at my crazy life" or "pity my suffering," but just an intelligent, average young black teenager trying to make sense of himself, his family, and America in the late seventies and early eighties, and who is saved by D&D and Chuck D.
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02/21/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Mia (new)

Mia Savage hard ghetto thug gang-banger reference; in writing this in an "archtype" but in reality this is a stereotype, please refrain from usage, as a writer/teacher of writing, one should know better.

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