Between the World and Me (Book Review)

Ta-Nehisi Coates probably needs no introduction. Upon the release of his book Between the World and Me, he became a superstar writer. His rise to stardom was covered in an episode of This American Life (this was actually how I discovered Ta-Nehisi Coates) which is so good it deserves a separate post of its own.

In the TAL episode, Ta-Nehisi is interviewed by one of the producers of the show, Neil Drumming, who happens to be a long-time friend. Like most adults fresh from college, they got immediately swept away by the newfound responsibilities adulthood brings, so they lost touch. The episode is a catch up between the two old friends. Things are extra awkward because both of them are writers but one (Ta-Nehisi) has become a famous NY Times bestseller writer and the other is, well, Neil Drumming (tbh, I have enjoyed most of the features he has written for TAL, he is a good writer).

The episode naturally piqued my curiosity. I got a copy of Between the World and Me but it took me more than a year to finally read it.

In a nutshell, the book is a long ass letter that Ta-Nehisi wrote for his son mainly focusing on how it is to live as a black person. As a letter for a son, it is written from a place of love, but it never took a cuddling or patronizing tone. Ta-Nehisi did not mince words. His message is raw and scathing; this is the only way to deliver a message like his.

Ta-Nehisi with his son (taken from: http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/books/qa-with-ta-nehisi-coates-author-of-between-the-world-and-me/)

I have always been sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement but since I live oceans away from where this is taking place, I have the luxury of emotional detachment. I am saddened and angered whenever I hear accounts of abuse towards black people in the US but I can go on with my day as usual. I live in the Philippines, I am not a minority, and I am slightly privileged because of my middle-class education. Maybe this was why I did not finish the book the first time I tried to read it.

However, things have changed in my country. We are in the midst of a senseless war against the urban poor. People are divided. Many people have died while many more people have become callous and apathetic. I fear for my life and even more for the lives of those close to me.

Upon reading Between the World and Me, I noticed many parallels. The lives of many young and promising black Americans have been snuffed out by the police. Here, many teenagers (some younger than ten) have died bruised and battered by the hands of the very police who swore to serve and protect them. Many more are expected to die until our president finally puts a stop to the madness he himself fucking started. In both countries, the criminals continue to walk free and go back to their jobs unscathed.

I have a friend who once tweeted “had it not been for the human race ability to compartmentalize, we would have all already gone mad”. This is precisely how I am still able to keep my sanity (I can go from reading a heartbreaking post about refugees to watching short cute animal videos in less than a minute; it’s like whiplash). But, there’s one more coping mechanism I do which Ta-Nehisi mentioned in the book (this also happens to be my most favorite excerpt from Between the World and Me).

History is not solely in our hands, And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.

This is why literature is powerful. Ta Nehisi’s experiences and mine are worlds apart yet his words transcend the difference. His book has been a help in processing the everyday lunacy from my part of the world.

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