Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a widely published author and this book, Between the World and Me, is the first of his works I have read. One of those we are all familiar with that he wrote is the Black Panther series of Marvel comics. Between the World and Me is a letter to his son. A letter to try and prepare him for the world he will grow up in.

This book is well-written, almost poetic at times. It also has an angry tone or at least it did to me. I would never pretend I could understand the trials and tribulations that a Black man in our country has had to live through, still must endure. Some of this is powerful and hurtful. It was difficult for me to admit I live in a society that could be guilty of such things.

On the other hand, I’m a solutions person, a problem solver. While I know we can’t make racism disappear overnight, I guess I was hoping the letter would be a document of Coates instructing his son about how he had the opportunity to change things. This is not that. It does not have an uplifting tone. It is the story of a Black man and what he had to live through. While it might not have been what I was expecting or even what I wanted to hear, I know it was a valuable read.

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