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The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood

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Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.

Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.

With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.

227 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

Ta-Nehisi Coates

370 books13.8k followers
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "Genius Grant" fellow, Coates has received the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism, and the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations." He lives in New York with his wife and son.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,007 reviews
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,358 reviews794 followers
June 6, 2020
He went back to Baldwin, who posed the great paradox that would haunt him to the end: Who among us would integrate into a burning house?
Where I come from, the white public has an extraordinary penchant for stealing the movement, language, all the etcs of a people you could ever imagine, from the black public. A word will come into a circle of white friends to use and lose and abuse, a segment of communication dehumanized as "slang" that will never be whole so long as it is spoken by those who aren't black. White pop stars want the dreadlocks and the body type and the lips and voice and skin, but god forbid they risk said oranged up skin in the ongoing political mutilation that is misogynoir. This book's going on a decade old and filled to the brim with what Buzzfeed and co. like to take and bleach and present to the majority white audience as brand spanking new, never before seen cool and hip and catchy except, of course, in the communities you're stealing it from. The communities you pressure cook just enough to hold them tight and suck up what squeezes out.
She knew that I had no idea how close I was, would always be, to the edge, how easily boys like me were erased in absurd, impractical ways.
Where I come from, it took me two decades and counting to recognize the mainstream as poison and the law as propaganda. The simple fact of the matter is, when you're not target practice from day one, it's a lot easier to devote your learning curve to the exigencies of upper middle class ideologies and render social justice a hobby. A fad. You take the deadbeat black fathers in stride without looking at the deadbeat white fathers who keep killing them. You don't contest the concept of the angry black woman or the sizeable presence of white supremacists in US first wave feminism. When you have that as a possible existence, your values will be different, your instincts will be different, hell, you'll have an easier time understanding the emotive motivations of dead people from across the ocean than those of the living right next door.
Among the Conscious, a man is only worth his latest reading. Each page pulled you farther out of slumber, and among the most enlightened it was not uncommon to hear an entire conversation composed of footnotes.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a reader. It shows as much in the books he references as the diction he spools, one word in ten of minimal familiarity yet intriguing engagement, the breed of mix usually evoked by aged literature or contemporary in translation. The Hobbit style map of Old Baltimore is a good indication of what is to come: a daydreamer fed on bloodshed both fantastical and not, where honor could very well be the talk of Tybalt and Mercutio had both come from a background that reeks of systematic enslavement and more than a little genocide. This is not a life that takes anything for granted: not Christian morals, not familial structure, not members of a community that have survived to the age of eighteen and beyond. This is not an education that'll get you that A or that pass or that four point oh, which makes the achievement of such standardized bullshit of credentials that much more profound.
All the truly living, at least once, are born again.
I still don't feel the need to pick up Between the World and Me anytime soon, but that's alright. Coates is good, but I already got his less modern kind in Native Son, and a 21st century account of anti-blackness in the US that doesn't touch on black women issues or black LGBT issues or black mental illness issues to a serious extent can only go so far. The public's reception of him still gives me hope, though. Memoirs outside the white straight and narrow are always a gift.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
April 1, 2017
Everyone knows Ta-Nehisi Coates from his more recent Between the World and Me. When I knew I'd be going to Baltimore for the first time, I went looking for books that were more than just crime novels (there are a lot of them set in Baltimore, thanks, The Wire.) This story of growing up in West Baltimore was a great choice.

Ta-Nehisi was born in 1975 and spent his childhood in West Baltimore. His father was an integral part in his upbringing, although not always present (Ta-Nehisi has six siblings with four different mothers!.) His father was involved in the Black Panther Party, and later would become a publisher of texts supporting that party and other topics surrounding black liberation (referred to throughout this text as Knowledge with a capital K.) Coates often writes about his brother "Big Bill" as somewhat of a contrast to his own path and decisions, since Bill dipped closer into more dangerous situations.
"The greater world was obsessed over challenger... But we were another country, fraying at the seams."
Most of Coates' challenges were navigating the violence of his neighborhood while also being smarter than his schooling (he would often get bored and simply not do the work.) He is three years older than me but he describes competing in the Olympics of the Mind, so I like to think of us on opposite sides of the country, practicing for those games. Between the World and Me talks about his Howard University ("Mecca") years, but this book shows how amazing it is that he even got in.

The story is interesting, of course. But the thing that makes this a five-star read for me is the writing. Coates writes so that every word counts. Every shift in topic is vibrant in the language he uses to describe it, and several scenes are still clearly in my mind. He is so talented and I will probably buy this to reread.

I'll read an excerpt on an upcoming episode of Reading Envy, but in the meantime there is a decent excerpt on NPR.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
February 24, 2016
"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


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
Profile Image for C..
Author 20 books410 followers
April 20, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Evan Leach.
462 reviews142 followers
October 29, 2016
Coates’ first book, written seven years before Between the World and Me, is a memoir of Coates’ childhood growing up in inner-city Baltimore. The Beautiful Struggle revolves around the relationship between Coates, his father, and his brother “Big Bill.” Coates’ father, a former Black Panther turned independent publisher, is determined to see his children escape the streets and get them into Howard University. Opposing him are the many forces plaguing the inner city and, often, his sons themselves.

Between the World and Me certainly drew heavily from Coates’ life, but it used that as a springboard to explore race relations in 21st century America on a large scale. It was this mix of macro and micro perspectives, along with Coates’ gift for illuminating old, entrenched problems in a new and unique light, that made Coates’ second book such a powerful read for me. The Beautiful Struggle is much more of a standard autobiography/memoir, and doesn’t have the same scope. As a result, I didn’t find this book quite as engrossing, although memoirs are far from my favorite genre, so perhaps take this with a grain of salt.

Still, as memoirs go, this is a good to very good one. Coates’ father and Big Bill are fascinating figures, flawed but still eminently likeable. Coates’ descriptions of himself felt honest and real; I especially enjoyed when his childhood interest in Dungeons and Dragons and comic books bled into the narrative (which reminded me at times of a nonfiction version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao). Coates is a gifted writer, and even in his literary debut his talent is indisputable. This is a lyrical, descriptive coming-of-age story, sprinked with nice moments of humor. 3.5 stars, recommended.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
290 reviews27 followers
May 13, 2015
Oh man, I just love him. This is totally different from his blog/twitter postings, but equally awesome along a totally different dimension. I think the writing *occasionally* goes off the rails with some of the flowery, figurative language, but he's also trying to capture the essence of something that is hard to explain. I really appreciate this as a meditation on black masculinity and the experience of trying to grow into a man in the world where Coates grew up. Loved the super complicated relationships with brothers and fathers and classmates and girls. Also found the historical stuff fascinating. This is super personal but also really thoughtful about the broader implications of his own experiences. I could use more of this kind of thing.

"Nowadays, I put on the tube and see the dumbfounded looks, when over some minor violation of name and respect, a black boy is found leaking on the street. The anchors shake their heads. The activists give their stupid speeches, praising mythical days when all disputes were handled down at Ray's Gym. Politicians step up to the mic, claim the young have gone mad, their brains infected, and turned superpredator. Fuck you all who've ever spoken so foolishly, who've opened your mouths like we don't know what this is. We have read the books you own, the scorecards you keep--done the math and emerged prophetic. We know how we will die--with cousins in double murder suicides, in wars that are mere theory to you, convalescing in hospitals, slowly choked out by angina and cholesterol. We are the walking lowest rung, and all that stands between us and beast, between us and the local zoo, is respect, the respect you take as natural as sugar and shit. We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us."


Really, really good. Recommend.
Profile Image for Craig Werner.
Author 13 books166 followers
July 3, 2012
Extremely interesting material that never quite coalesces into either a clear statement or a good read. One of seven children of a black nationalist father, Coates grew up in West Baltimore where he was consistently on the verge of washing out of the educational system entirely. Although he ultimately makes it--on one level this is a variation on the "narrative of ascent" in which a black protagonist acquires "literacy" and a limited degree of freedom--Coates doesn't provide a clear picture of which parts of his story are of potential use to those seeking to address the broader problems facing "at-risk" youth. The structure of the book is episodic, jumping from moment to moment without finding a strong narrative rhythm.

Despite the problems, there's much of value here. Coates' portrayal of the emergence and evolution of hip-hop culture (and some other aspects of 80s and early 90s popular culture) sparks a lot of memories. Similarly, he provides a densely detailed, if not thoroughly processed, snapshot of the sort of black nationalist/Afrocentric thought that elevates J.A. Rogers and Marcus Garvey to heroic status.

I wasn't clear on where Coates is located today, where his journey has taken him. Quite possibly, that's a second book, but at least a bit of indication--if only on the book jacket--would have been useful.
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,056 reviews130 followers
January 21, 2019
I’ve heard a lot of great things about Coates’ writing (and enjoyed it in the Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under Our Feet graphic novel) so I was eager to dive into this book. However, I was a little underwhelmed. His story is interesting but I struggled while reading. It wasn’t as engaging as I thought it’d be. I still want to give his other books a try as those are the ones I hear most about.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books192 followers
February 17, 2016
This is the most incredible memoir I've ever read. It's as great as GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin or MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER by Nate McCall!

What makes this book so compelling, and impossible to put down, is not what Coates has to say about race in the abstract. It's how honest he is about the specifics of his own life. You can't help identifying with him, no matter what color you are, because he writes about how children feel about their parents in ways that are timeless and true. He writes the best father son conflicts ever, and he makes the fear so real that when he describes parental discipline being meted out it's like a white-knuckle suspense thriller. He's absolutely honest about how much he hated and feared his father's discipline through most of his childhood, without ever losing sight of the obstacles his father had faced or the heroic effort his father was making just to raise sons who could survive in a racist society.

Given the excellence of the writing, I can't give this book any less than five stars. But there were a lot of things that really grated on my nerves. I've listened to plenty of hardcore rap, and anti-white posturing is nothing new to me. But it's irritating to have a guy insist over and over that all white Americans are racist pigs, and then have the same guy turn around and with a straight face start telling you how awesome STAR WARS is. Or LORD OF THE RINGS. There were so many inane shout outs to stuff like Orcs and Jedi light sabers and Storm Troopers. What was it supposed to prove? At times I almost got the feeling Coates was pulling my leg, pretending to only know the dumbest side of mainstream white culture. But it's not that funny after a while. Because a film maker like George Lucas is as much a symbol of racism as Ronald Reagan or McDonald's.

The same thing applies to the historical revisionism in the name of black pride. All through the book Coates keeps referring to Howard University as "Mecca." Never once does he call it by name. He just calls it "Mecca." Is this supposed to be cute? Howard University was founded by a white Union Army General named Otis O. Howard. He lost an arm in the Civil War fighting to save the Union and free the slaves (not necessarily in that order.) After the war he joined the Freedmen's Bureau and helped found the first modern university for black Americans. Now maybe Coates thinks he's just another white devil. If so, he should make the case. But just calling Howard University "Mecca" is a cop out. It's like in World War One when the white super patriots wanted to call Dachshunds "Liberty Pups" and sauerkraut "Liberty Cabbage" because they hated Kaiser Bill so much. I get the fact that to Coates General O. O. Howard is just another Kaiser Bill. But what does that make George Lucas? Or J.R.R. Tolkien? This was a brilliant book, but in the end it left me frustrated and wanting to know more about how the author really thinks. And maybe that was the point.
Profile Image for Crease.
36 reviews38 followers
March 17, 2016
Admittedly, I'm beginning to experience a sort of sedition of my critical faculties when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates' writing—journalistic and literary—isn't meant to be palliative in the least. But that's exactly the effect that this slim work engendered for me.

A Bildungsroman that's not exactly lyrical but poetic, The Beautiful Struggle has 90's urban-America's fingerprints all over it; it took me back to a time that was both simpler and treacherous:

"In those days Baltimore was factional, segmented into crews who took their names from their local civic associations. Walbrook Junction ran everything, until they met North and Pulaski, who, craven and honorless, would punk you right in front of your girl."

It was incredible for me to peruse just how much life in West Baltimore mirrored life on the west side of Chicago, where I grew up. The names of friends and streets change, but the desperate urgency to escape, a recurring theme of the book, was omnipresent. Some gave up...As the years have passed and I've heard, from afar for quite some time now, the exploits, often criminal, often tragic, of childhood friends...it's been a while since I'd thought about how blessed I was to have the support system I did.

While "Between the World and Me" overlaps with this work, this is much more focused on Ta-Nehisi's family, and largely on his relationship with his father. I was struck by the sort of cognitive dissonance Coates felt for his father. Though never explained in quite this way, implicitly, his father was flawed but consistent. A man pragmatic to a fault; like Malcolm, he at times he found Ghandi and non-violence absurd. Determined that his family would not live "mentally enslaved," he denied Ta-Nehisi and his clan enjoyments both mundane and congenial; they didn't eat meat, never celebrated birthdays or holidays and bathed in consciousness from a very young age. Though early on he could not understand his father's deliberateness, I laughed out loud at the ways in which Ta-Nehisi idolized him:

"When I was young, my father was heroic to me, was all I knew of religion...We'd hop out of the car, and I'd try to shut the doors in unison with him, like on detective shows when they meant business."

Taking stock of his world frustrated him greatly. "He was an intellectual, born as it was among people who could not see a college campus as an outcome." Though exasperated, Paul Coates fought tooth and nail for his children to have an education. For years, he placed his own dreams on hold and worked in the library at Howard University so that his children could attend for free.

Though the two books couldn't be more different in many ways, I believe that those who enjoyed "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" will like this one. I loved it.
Profile Image for Elliot Ratzman.
517 reviews69 followers
June 16, 2011
“We are the walking lowest rung, and all that stands between us and beast,” Ta-Nehisi Coates claims, “is respect.” Respect? Silly machismo. I’m of two minds about this memoir: can’t decide if it’s poetic profundity or puerile posturing. I enjoy Coates’ insightful pieces in Time, Atlantic and New Yorker. The memoir of his pre-college (Howard) years is at turns hip-hop cartoonish, beautifully evocative and eye-rolling frustrating. A few chpts are stellar. In short, he’s raised by a sharp but bitter (and philandering) black nationalist father in Baltimore. Violence and trauma are everywhere in the 80s at-risky neighborhood from the creeping drug epidemic to street bullying to drive-by shootings. Risk averted, yet even with a librarian father, responsible mother and Black Nationalist pride culture Coates’ HS grades are terrible, barely making it to college. With his politicized and supportive family, good reading habits and desire to write, there’s no excuse for his early underachievement.
Profile Image for Maya Smart.
39 reviews47 followers
October 3, 2016
I love Ta-Nehisi Coates’s unflinching essays on race. They exemplify journalism’s highest calling as a discipline of verification. He consistently eviscerates uniquely American delusions with deep reporting, impregnable facts and powerful prose.

Witness this brilliant story in which he lets confederates themselves declare the battle flag’s meaning, quoting long passages of their defense of slavery and white supremacy. Only the willfully ignorant or comprehension impaired can read it and credibly assert that the rebel flag is not a symbol of hate. His writing wakes us from our collective slumber.

His first memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle” (published in 2008), is also about awakening, but in it Coates as well as his readers get schooled. The book introduces us to young Ta-Nehisi, the sixth of his father’s seven children, as he navigates the perils of adolescence set against a backdrop of Baltimore street brawls, guns and crack. The captivating story reveals how his parents, teachers and the streets gave him an education in life or death matters of black consciousness.

In particular, I loved his depiction of his reading-fueled maturation, informed by the revolutionary (Dessalines and Toussaint) children’s books his mother imparted and his father’s massive collection of out-of-print texts, obscure lectures and self-published monographs of black writers. The books and the love with which they were dispensed fortified him against the hostility of the world in substantial ways.

“I plunged into my father’s books of Consciousness that he’d shelved in nearly every room in the house,” Coates writes. “That was how I found myself, how I learned my name.”

He’s speaking of the moment when he saw “Ta-Nehisi,” the ancient Egyptian name for the mighty Nubian nation, in print. But also of the long journey, home training if you will, that anchored him in his blackness and his promise as he entered adulthood.

All of Coates’s writing is a gift, but I especially appreciate this deeply personal survivor’s tale, rendered in all its complexity and beauty. It deepened my belief that reading books of substance and conviction helps build children of substance and conviction. I look forward to the next chapter of his memoirs, “Between the World and Me,” scheduled for July release.
Profile Image for Celia.
1,229 reviews165 followers
December 9, 2018
What a beautiful story. Not an easy story, but beautiful, just as the title states.

This is the memoir of Ta-Nahisi Coates. I think it is his first book. And he has gone on to write some real barn-burners.

But in this one, he recounts the story of how his father influenced him; how wonderful a man his father was.

It is 1974 in Baltimore MD. Ta-Nahisi is the issue of his father’s fourth liaison. Paul Coates is a man who had fathered 5 children before Ta-Nahesi. Paul Coates is a man to be feared AND admired. He uses the belt as if it were an extension of his right hand on this child who does not always rise to his expectations. He is also an activist (having been a Black Panther) and a man who re-publishes some pretty high-brow books.

I loved the book despite Coates using some hip-hop language that I did not understand. But maybe I will just study hip-hop as I loved this story and I want to understand it further.
I am going to include 2 quotes from the book which summed up the book for me.

Page 169
“I was almost 16 and Dad was counting on the lessons kicking in, the books, the work, the bees and wax, the Ankobia initiation, the Rites, the Knowledge, the Consciousness. My Dad was only looking to me to finally police myself”.

Page 180
A page that has MUCH to share, but am quoting the following
“Because my father was Superman, … the cat who was dealt a hand of seven kids by four women,
and did his best to carry it, and I had let him down.”

I loved the book because Ta-Nahesi rose above his failures and became the success he is. I also see his Father as NOT being the stereotypical African American dad who does not show involvement with his kids. He influences Ta-Nahesi to become the man that he is.

I am giving this book 4.75 stars and have deducted only because of the hip-hop. I loved this book.

4.75 stars

Personal note: I visited San Jose CA in Oct 2017 and visited many book stores while there. One was the Amazon Book Store in one of the suburbs of San Jose. I was in the company of a dear reading friend when I bought this book . Well, Elyse, I finally got to it and I loved it. Thank you.
Profile Image for Gedankenlabor.
788 reviews112 followers
June 2, 2021
„The beautiful Struggle – Der Sound der Strasse“ von Ta-Nehisi Coates - Ta-Nehisi Coates wächst in den 1980er-Jahren in Baltimore auf - als die Stadt am Abgrund taumelt: Armut und Drogenkriminalität prägen den Alltag, Chaos und Gewalt stellen für den schwarzen Jungen eine permanente Bedrohung dar. Er muss schnell lernen, sich in dieser feindlichen Umgebung zu behaupten - und sein Vater Paul ist ihm ein Lehrer: Der Black-Panther-Aktivist und autodidakte Verleger lehrt ihn, wie man auf den Straßen von Baltimore überlebt, wie man vorankommt im Leben und es schließlich sogar bis an die Universität schafft.

Durch das Buch „Der Wassertänzer“ konnte ich mir ja bereits ein erstes Bild über Ta-Nehisi Coates machen, seinen Schreibstil kennenlernen und in seine Geschichten eintauchen.
Umso neugieriger war ich auf seine Geschichte... seine Vergangenheit und somit den Sound der Strasse aus seiner Sicht.
Ich muss sagen, dass mich dieses Buch nun über einen längeren Zeitraum beschäftigt hat, denn es ist schon mitunter erschreckend, wie prägend Rassismus ist, wie sich dieser auf der Strasse zeigt und wie schwierig das Leben Coates Jugend in Baltimore der 1980er-Jahre war.
Mit seinem Vater an seiner Seite offenbart sich hier eben auch eine sehr interessante und einnehmende Vater-Sohn-Geschichte, die aber wie das Leben selbst Höhen und Tiefen, mit Licht als auch Schatten behaftet ist.
Fazit: Ein sehr interessantes Buch mit einem eindringlichen Blick auf den Sound der Strasse Baltimores, ein Porträt des jungen Ta-Nehisi Coates und für mich ein lesenswertes Buch, das ich jedem, der sich näher für Coates und seine Vergangenheit auf den Strassen Baltimores um 1980 beschäftigen möchte, sehr ans Herz legen kann!
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,688 reviews26 followers
June 11, 2016
This is a worthwhile read for those who have read and appreciated Between the World and Me. It fills in the back story of Coates' young years in Baltimore up to the time he goes to college. Much of the story focuses on his father. Coates father was a Vietnam vet, turned Black Panther, turned Afrocentric publisher. He had 7 children with 4 women, being married to 2 of them, one Coates' mother. During Coates' teen years, his father focused on his publishing business that brought Afrocentric classics back into print. His children were subject to strict discipline including a meatless diet except for occasional treats of turkey hot dogs. Despite this unorthodox, both father and son believed it was important to have a father's involvement. Ta-Nehisi becomes obsessed with African drumming after a lackluster start. The practice and community comes to mean so much to him he considers during down admission to Howard to stay in Baltimore. Those who have read Between the World and Me know the choice he made.
Profile Image for Scott.
34 reviews9 followers
July 11, 2009
I just started reading this today, but in the first chapter alone, here are a couple gems:

"About that time my Converse turned to cleats and I bolted, leaving dents and divots in the concrete. The streetlights flickered, waved as I broke ankles, blew by, and when the bandits reached to check me, I left only imagination and air."

"They elevated bar fights to a martial art, would rush the ring, all juiced on jeers and applause, white music blaring, Van Halen hair waving in the wind, and raise their chins until their egos were eye level with God."

I heard an interview Terry Gross did with the author on Fresh Air on NPR. This man, Ta-Nehisi Coates, is such an engaging speaker that I knew I needed to track down a copy of this book. No one in town had it in stock, which is an absolute shame because that means few will happen upon it unless they heard the interview or read one of the scarce reviews of the book that popped up in Omaha.
Profile Image for Eric.
226 reviews5 followers
November 24, 2022
I purchased this book shortly after reading Between the World and Me, which is one of the best works I've read. One chapter into The Beautiful Struggle I knew it would rank right up there with Between the World and Me. First, Coates writes with what I call a Hip Hop elegance that evokes images of Black urban life during the 80s as well as sharp humor that makes one laugh out loud. As I wrote about Between the World and Me Coates wastes no word in the entire text. He devoted himself to his craft and artistry that each word he weighed carefully brought every sentence to a high quality of vivaciousness. I have no problem that I am jealous of his talent as a writer and storyteller.

A brief summary of the book. Coates walks us through his coming-of-age story in West Baltimore with all of the waiting pitfalls and landmines. This is far more than a 21st century version of Man Child in the Promise Land. The Beautiful Struggle is more than grit and grime. It's a story about the pains and maturation of Black Boys, and the story of Ta-Nehisi's relationship with his father, Paul Coates, and his older brother William (Big Bill), Jr. Struggle is the great theme as Paul struggled to scratch his way to the realization of his dream and passion of becoming a book publisher, and Big Bill's just to realize that there's another type of life in reach for Black men.

My only regret is that I didn't read this book a decade ago. I hadn't known Coates' work until his article on Reparations. I highly recommend this page turner!!
Profile Image for Ruby Grad.
525 reviews4 followers
August 7, 2020
4.5 rounded up. This book was not intended for a reader like me. I would estimate that I didn't understand fully 1/3 of the book because of not being familiar with so many of the cultural references and words I either hadn't encountered before or for which the meaning was clearly different than I understood it to be. However, I appreciated how the author shares his youth and the stories of his brother and his father and all of the intersections of the three lives. I got a real feel for the neighborhoods in which he grew up and the people he grew up with. Although we are so different, it brought back memories of my own time in elementary, middle and high school. There are ways in which his descriptions are universal for anyone growing up in America, and, of course, ways in which both being African American and also having his own personality and conditioning made it unique to him.
Profile Image for Will.
188 reviews151 followers
February 8, 2017
I've been lucky enough to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak twice, and both times I've left the auditorium reflective and inspired. Coates often speaks and writes about structural racism, especially black criminality, where he explains that American society tends to create “boxes” of criminality around black people more readily than those of other races, and that black people are more often in violation of the law because the laws were written to specifically target them. Having lived in, covered, and experienced Baltimore over the past year and a half, I've heard a lot of talk on race relations, racism, and the black experience. But I've never had it explained so clearly and viscerally as when Coates explains it, either verbally or in writing. Reading about his youth gave me a new perspective through which to see his work.

Coates grew up in a black conscious family, where his father was dominant and where Africa and its culture were idealized. None of his friends had fathers, and that's a significant factor that Coates takes into account when analyzing his childhood. However, he was drawn to the real world around him, the street culture of the Baltimore of the late 80s and early 90s, right after the height of the crack epidemic that destroyed the city. He wanted to fit in with his neighborhood friends and rivals; he wanted to dominate, get the girls, and have a powerful reputation. Coates cites the impact that his father had on his childhood, from forcing him to read countless reams on black empowerment and unity to making sure he went in the right direction with a heavy hand, as a primary reason why he didn't succumb to the alluring violence that gripped the streets of Baltimore and which continues to dominate those same street corners. Over 300 people have been killed in a city of just over 600,000 this year.

Coates writes about how lucky he was that people gave him endless chances because, as he so candidly admits, he screwed up too many times to count. He got into Poly, a magnet school in Baltimore, and then got kicked out after outbursts in class. His father would beat him mercilessly because he did not want his son to turn out like other boys Coates' age, either in prison or too embroiled in the gang lifestyle to ever leave it. Coates writes about his experiences, his mistakes, and his opportunities: his African drum family, the network of support he had as a child, the story of his older brother, who was part of a gang from a young age. But this book has its flaws. He often passes over the role that black women play in Baltimore, as matriarchs and community leaders, but he does make it very clear that the sory is about a black boy growing up, not a black girl. He writes repetitively much of the time, relating every time that he squandered an opportunity that was presented to him. While I'm glad he recognized the improtance of these opprounites that are not afforded to every black boy in Baltimore, it was a lot of the same.

When I heard Coates speak for the second time, less than a day after winning the National Book Award for Nonfiction, I had a new perspective on how he became such a fine journalist and inspiring man. We cannot trivialize race in America, and reading Coates' memoir reinforced that fact.
Profile Image for Gladia.
61 reviews24 followers
April 30, 2011
How not to love Ta-Nehisi Coates? Of course I got to know him through his blog on The Atlantic and that’s kind of hard to stop reading it after you start. Not too dissimilar from a drug. It is really no secret that Coates most attractive characteristic—at least for me—is being this soft, sweet underdog who, despite it all, made it. Take this conversation between father and son:
'I am not raising nothing niggers. Where is your head? What are you thinking, boy?
I am thinking of Sunday waffles and Morning Star. I am grieving for Lynn Min-mei, apatosaurs, Tom Landry, and Cowboy blue. I am staring three desks over and dreaming of Brenda Neil, dancing in a pink and white gown.'

Coates has a voice. That’s all that matters, no need for a story. I would read him regardless of what he’s talking about. I guess that took over almost too much in this case. I really should have gone around Baltimore a bit more when I had the chance. I found myself a few times lost. For someone who grew up in Europe in the late 80s, some of the things Coates talks about are just plain unknown. But that doesn’t matter because someone who describes himself in the following way you can just love.
'My cheeks were fat. I talked a lot, laughed in such a way that I gave the hardest kids around me permission to laugh.'

Reading this memoir was refreshing. Coates made me feel like it’s ok to be human more than most of other authors I’ve read so far.
'I was still a dreamer, if now repressed, was still cupcakes and comic books at the core.'
Profile Image for Lesereien.
228 reviews17 followers
June 27, 2021
Ta-Nehisi Coates erzählt in seinem autobiographischen Buch “The Beautiful Struggle” von seiner Kindheit und Jugend im Baltimore der 80er Jahre, die von Rassismuserfahrungen, von Gewalt, Drogen und Bandenkriminalität geprägt ist.

Coates erfährt schon früh, wie allgegenwärtig die Gewalt ist, denn er gilt als Schwächster in der Schule. Prügel, Schläge und Kämpfe lauern hinter jeder Ecke und es sind “[d]ie gewöhnlichsten Dinge - der Weg zur Schule, eine Radfahrt um den Block, der Gang zum Supermarkt”, die schief laufen können.

Dass Coates selbst nicht in die Kriminalität abrutscht, hat er vor allem seinem Vater zu verdanken, einem Black Panther Aktivisten, der ihn lehrt, wie man auf den Straßen überlebt: “Du bist groß und du bist ein junger Schwarzer. Du musst vorsichtig sein mit dem, was du tust und was du sagst”.

Doch es ist auch die HipHop Musik, mit der Coates sich identifizieren kann und der er sich nahe fühlt. Er findet durch die Texte, Reime und Rhythmen zu sich selbst und entwickelt allmählich ein Bewusstsein für die Geschichte der Schwarzen.

“The Beautiful Struggle” sind die Erinnerungen eines klugen und talentierten Autoren. Coates stellt die eigene Jugend als Gratwanderung dar und zeigt, wie schwer es ist, sich ungewollt immer an der Grenze zum falschen Weg und zur Gewalt entlang bewegen zu müssen. Seinen Erinnerungen lauschen zu dürfen, ihren Nachhall noch lange verspüren zu dürfen, habe ich als Bereicherung empfunden.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews158k followers
June 2, 2015
One of our foremost intellectuals takes a look back at his Baltimore childhood, his complicated relationship with his father, and his circuitous journey toward self-awareness. Coates’s is a dynamic voice that I look to for perspective and clarity on just about any issue of importance, and given recent events in Baltimore, it’s fascinating to watch him trace the origins of that voice. His next book, Between the World and Me, doesn’t come out until September, so those who can’t wait should get their hands on this first-rate bildungsroman. — Minh Le

from The Best Books We Read In May: http://bookriot.com/2015/06/02/riot-r...
Profile Image for Kam.
20 reviews1 follower
January 2, 2016
The story is especially gripping because of the tails about places and events that I grew up around. Great coming of age story for a Black Baltimore boy.
Profile Image for The Magician Read .
130 reviews13 followers
November 18, 2018
J’ai connu Ta- Nehisi Coates pour la première fois à travers son fameux livre best seller [ colère noire ], j’avais tout de suite succombé à la plume poignante de l’auteur, et c’est devenu pour moi chose essentielle d’attendre avec impatience ses prochains livres, j’ai alors sauté sur son dernier livre paru en 2018 [ le grand combat] sans même m’attarder sur la quatrième de couverture, le nom de l’auteur était suffisant, moins connu que son précédent livre, le grand combat est un témoignage fort, un coup de poing dans la figure des Etat-Unis et sa politique raciale des années 70, c’est aussi l’histoire d’un gosse afro-américain qui évolue dans une société inégalitaire et sous le joug d'un père influencé par les Black Panthers. C’est aussi le combat d’un père et d’une mère pour sauver leurs progénitures fragiles des rues dangereuses de Baltimore, c’est tout simplement l’histoire de la famille Coates, racontée par Ta-Nehisi lui même à travers ses souvenirs d’enfance et d’adolescence, bref un voyage dans le temps, pas toujours agréable mais ou en ressent l’empreinte d’une bienveillance paternelle très touchante!
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,086 reviews151 followers
July 17, 2020
Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.

With The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, I claim completion of the Ta-Nehisi Coates canon. (Not counting his work on Black Panther graphic novels.) Now I want to go back and re-read some of his later books with the perspective I just gained. First on my list would be his memoir and letter to his son, Between the World and Me. It feels like that’d be the full circle to this book.

In Struggle, Coates writes eloquently about his maturation process from goofy black kid to inquiring teen to activist-curious young man. All through the lens of West Baltimore and a father connected to the politics and realities of being Black in America. And yes, it is a struggle for Coates to find the spot where he fits between his siblings and parents.

The Coates family is a nonconformist one, driven primarily by the father. Which isn’t to say the family’s mothers aren’t strong women all on their own merit. But Paul Coates influences every moment of this story. His background as a Vietnam vet, Black Panther, on-and-off vegan, micro press publisher colors the decisions he makes for Ta-Nehisi and his siblings.

But the kids have to individuate, becoming their own people. First the older siblings, including Bill, who’s a mentor and role model for his younger brother. Until he’s not. And as Ta-Nehisi find his way among his peers, his brother’s choices are both cautionary tale and motivator.

My conclusions
I loved watching the author discuss his evolution from kid to young adult, with the perspective of learning about the historic and current of Black people. Having a father who also printed activist and lost historic works certainly created a unique environment.

On the other hand, plenty of this book is typical coming-of-age stuff. Finding your way in the schoolyard, among changing school environments, and in different neighborhoods is never easy. And Coates clues us in to how all that happened for him.

Additionally, I read this with the prism of my recent parallel read, The Nickel Boys. In many ways, they couldn’t be more different. One fiction, based in fact. The other, a memoir. But both fundamentally about black boys growing into teens and then young men. Together they covered acres of ground, in terms of both experience and eras.

I recommend The Beautiful Struggle as a coming-of-age memoir based in the Black, urban experience of the 1980s. It’s well told, heartfelt, and full of honest awakenings.

Pair with The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead or Coates’ later memoir, Between the World and Me. Alternately, pair with Another Brooklyn or Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson for the parallel female perspective.
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