The Beautiful Struggle
A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood
An exceptional father-son story from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.
Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.
Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.
With a remarkable ability to reimagine both the lost world of his father’s generation and the terrors and wonders of his own youth, Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond.
Praise for The Beautiful Struggle
“I grew up in a Maryland that lay years, miles and worlds away from the one whose summers and sorrows Ta-Nehisi Coates evokes in this memoir with such tenderness and science; and the greatest proof of the power of this work is the way that, reading it, I felt that time, distance and barriers of race and class meant nothing. That in telling his story he was telling my own story, for me.”—Michael Chabon, bestselling author of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
“Ta-Nehisi Coates is the young James Joyce of the hip hop generation.”—Walter Mosley
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In his first book, Ta-Nehisi Coates opens up a time capsule into two eras of African American history. In the early ’70s, Vietnam vet Paul Coates discovers the Black Panthers and free love. In the late ’80s, his son Ta-Nehisi comes of age as a sci-fi-obsessed comics nerd in inner-city Baltimore. Coates’ depictions of his struggles are lively and humorous, conveyed through stylish language that’s filled with poetry and ’80s pop culture references. We were especially moved by the Between the World and Me author’s portrayal of his father’s fight to keep him and his siblings safe and aware, using teachings from African history that the elder Coates called the “Knowledge.” Though the Knowledge and his father’s fierce protectiveness seemed unfathomable to the teenage Ta-Nehisi, The Beautiful Struggle shows how deeply they’ve affected his life since.
West Baltimore, where Coates, a former Village Voice and Time staff writer, spent his formative years, was an environment ravished by crack and beset with deadbeat fathers. But his own father (and his mother, to whom he dedicates the book) fought hard to keep him and his half-brother, Bill, from succumbing to the destiny awaiting many of their peers. Their father, Paul Coates, found his own purpose as a young man in the Black Panther movement, only to become disillusioned by the internal politics, but he never lost the foundational beliefs he found there. From this basis, he instills in his sons a pride in their cultural inheritance which, as they mature, plays a significant role in their developing sense of self and is credited in part with keeping them from surrendering to the streets. Though the bookish Coates and his street-wise half-brother travel different paths toward manhood, they find freedom in the lessons of their father. Ultimately, Coates brings the struggle of the streets to the page in language, verging on poetic, that is brutal in its honesty.