by Arthur J. Magida ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 3, 1996
Magida was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his reporting on the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, but this biography adds little to our knowledge or understanding of this fiery, notorious man. Editorial director of Jewish Lights and a former editor at the Baltimore Jewish Times, Magida might not seem like the ideal biographer for a man who calls Jews ""bloodsuckers."" But a lack of objectivity and fairness are not the flaws of this rather thin work. The problem is that, despite having obtained several personal interviews with Farrakhan--no mean accomplishment--Magida mostly rehashes the public record of the minister's activities, especially his growing conflicts with Jews during the 1980s and '90s. There are occasional insights, such as a clarification of Farrakhan's reference to Judaism as a ""dirty religion."" Noting that ""Farrakhan's religious vocabulary was so peculiar, so idiosyncratic"" that it was virtually incomprehensible, Magida shows by other examples that the phrase refers to hypocrisy in religion, rather than the content of any particular faith. Farrakhan, nâ€š Louis Eugene Walcott, was the son of a West Indian immigrant woman in Roxbury, Mass., who supported her children by working as a maid. We learn that the star pupil and gifted young violinist always had an innate sense of his ""chosenness"" as well as a gift for performance and a love of fame and adulation. But we don't learn what motivated the popular young calypso performer known as ""the Charmer"" to join NOI, nor do we get beyond his public statements on such heated topics as his relationship with Malcolm X, his split with NOI leader Elijah Muhammad's son and successor, and his dealings with other black leaders. In the end, though hardly exonerating Farrakhan's anti-Semitic rhetoric, Magida is perhaps too fair to this false prophet. He is certainly too far removed from the workings of NOI to give a full picture of a divisive and difficult figure.
Pub Date: July 3, 1996
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996
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