A debut memoir that traces an unlikely trajectory from isolation and poverty to financial success and hard-won self-knowledge.
In a book that reads more like oral history than crafted narrative, Sana recounts the forces that shaped his identity as an African-American. Born Bernard Sutton in 1968, Sana grew up in inner-city Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood dominated by gangs and drugs. He was raised by a single mother who suffered from mental illness so severe that she could not work, and even as a young teenager, Sana looked for ways to supplement his mother’s Social Security checks. Although he saw his friends making money through drug sales and robbery, he refused to get involved. Instead, he loaded grocery bags for tips and worked as a cook at a fast-food restaurant. Earning his own money, writes the author, “gave me a sense of pride.” Despite financial straits, his mother made sure that he went to the best schools possible and pushed him to do well. He attended Gonzaga, a prestigious high school where the student body was largely white and college bound. The transition from his crumbling African-American neighborhood caused “a lot of culture shock” that resulted in altercations with classmates. But a combination of grit, intelligence, and teachers’ encouragement fueled his determination. School became an escape route: Sana attended Mount Saint Mary’s College, where he discovered Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X, whose books exerted a great impact on his changing consciousness. He became passionately interested in African-American history and culture, which led to his adopting an African name. After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in business and accounting, he worked at an accounting firm and also joined a friend to sell books like the ones that had influenced him. Their hard work led to the establishment of a thriving chain of bookstores, Karibu Books. Sana’s personal life was difficult, and he is forthright about the sexual and emotional problems that beset his relationships with women and the tumultuous losses that afforded him new insight into his identity.
A candid testimony of struggle and achievement.