LITTLE X

GROWING UP IN THE NATION OF ISLAM

The written history of the Nation of Islam has focused heavily on the movement's leaders, such as Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X; it has been told from an almost exclusively male perspective; and it has virtually ignored the transitional period of the 1970s, when Elijah Muhammad's son transformed the movement into one more in keeping with orthodox Islam. This cogent memoir challenges all three of these trends. Tate, a 30-year-old journalist, offers an autobiographical portrait of her childhood in the Nation and then in orthodox Islam. Here we see how rank-and-file members of the Nation lived, how their dress, organizations, and dietary restrictions set them apart even within Islam (not only pork was forbidden, but also white rice, white potatoes, and white bread). Tate's earliest years were spent in an all-Nation school, which she attended year-round and where she was drilled with the Nation's ideology about race (that whites are blue-eyed devils and blacks the superior race) and gender roles (women's role being to bear children for the Nation). She struggled against many of the strict regulations, though this rebellion was always mixed with a sense of pride, of corporate identity. But with the 1975 death of their leader, Elijah Muhammad, Tate's family and other followers were set adrift, trying to find a place in orthodox Islam, seeking ways to juxtapose being Muslim and African-American. Tate began attending public school, wearing street clothes and enjoying new freedoms, though always with more restrictions than her classmates (and her male relatives). In her teen years, Tate's family began to crumble beneath the weight of intergenerational and religious disagreements, and orthodox Islam did not prove a strong enough force to hold them together. Little X is a compelling story, despite an indifferent prose style, because it provides an honest, inside view of one of America's most controversial religious movements and perceptively points to social tensions of race, gender, and religious identity. ($40,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-251134-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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