I did write about the book in an email to friends. With changes to take out references to the friends and a few editorial changes, here is what I wrote.
Several weeks ago I included in a post an excerpt of the book “The Beautiful Struggle” [Ta-Nehesi Coates, 2008, Speigel & Grau publisher]. I hadn’t at that time read the entire book, but knew it was beautifully written. After a friend wrote that she was reading it, I went out and got a copy. I finished it this morning.
Years ago, decades - when I was in my 20’s - I wanted to write a novel of very short excerpts of hundreds of people’s lives around the world at one moment and try to show how they affected one another, knowingly or not. I never had the skill to try then, and today I’m glad that I didn’t try. Some photographer, years later, had a similar thought and had thousands of people around the world take photos at the same time, or as much the same as possible. I thought it was an amazing effort, but I thought the book he produced failed.
Ta-Nehesi Coates’ book points out to me how poor my effort would have been then, and would be, I believe, for any writer, no matter the power of his skill. Coates opens an entirely different world than any I could have imagined. My book would have been an unreal vision of people very much like myself. Coates reveals people very different, people whose lives I could never have been able to understand, much less write about. And if such a different world existed in my own country, how would I ever have been able to portray a culture different from what my small mind could conceive anywhere?
It is the power of Coates skills that brings the people of The Beautiful Struggle to life in words. It is also immensely satisfying to read of the feelings of a young boy and be able to recognize very similar feelings in myself as I grew up. In another world altogether, a small town in northern Ohio, I was an outsider, floating somehow through a world I didn’t understand or feel a part of. But there our similarities end.
Today Coates writes for The Atlantic magazine and a blog on their web site. I’ve seen him on discussion panels on TV. I’d like very much to read a connecting book about the time between the end of The Beautiful Struggle and today. For me it would be equally interesting. But, I’m thankful for this book, and thankful even more for the opening of the possibilities of very different worlds, cultures, and life that I hadn’t been aware of. It is that new awareness, even if I don’t understand, that I am most thankful for in this book.
Years ago, when stationed at Charleston AFB, SC, I had a barracks roommate who was black. This was in 1958, and many of the struggles of blacks to gain their freedom was yet to come. He was from New Orleans as I remember, and had a very aggressive, angry attitude. I could never reach beyond or understand his anger, and as a result we were continually in each others face. After reading Coates I begin to see portions. Why that experience comes back now is interesting in itself.
I want to consider that for a while. I've a small story I wrote about an experience in Charleston that may illustrate more about my feeble trying to be at least aware of black people's problems then, and I may pull it out and post it here.
For now, however, I'm grateful that I've begun posting. Now perhaps I can become a blogger again.