Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review - Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
I received an Amazon gift coupon for Rs 200 recently, and I began looking for a book to buy. I zeroed in on 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates for a few reasons.

One, the book deals with a subject (race) that is at the heart of contemporary social fabric of the US. We wish the country has moved on, but regularly we get to hear of issues and events that only point to the contrary.

Two, the author is a well-known journalist. He works for The Atlantic.

Three, this book, his second, is a very recent one, and the news of its publication is fresh in memory.

The book is in the form of a letter to his 14-year old son, about what it means to be black in the US. Apparently, the book came about after Coates asked his editor why no one wrote like James Baldwin (whose The Fire Next Time, is in the form of a letter), and the editor told him to give it a try.

Drawing a lot from his childhood in Baltimore and many other personal experiences, Coates brilliantly paints a haunting picture of violence. References to brutality are powerful enough to linger in our minds for long. He constantly refers to the body that is always under the threat of being harmed, his feelings of being in a country that has been built by whites with the labour of blacks.

I haven't been in the US long enough to know first hand how race relations play out in everyday lives. I have heard both versions: one, that the country has moved far, far ahead from where it was once; and two, there is still lot of racial ill-will among the whites for the Afro-Americans. Segregation may not legally exist, but in reality it does still, if not so much on the ground, definitely in the mind.

The book paints a very pessimistic picture: almost tells you there is just no hope of anything getting better. I got a feeling that he was going on and on. The bleak tenor was off-putting. One shouldn't be taking so much pains to explain and convince why something will not improve; it should be for the contrary, why there is still reason for hope.

Nevertheless, Coates's autobiographical accounts and his arguments on why he doesn't see much hope, is a good read, giving us a frame of reference to understand the complex topic of race relations in the US.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews


  1. Perhaps Coates Jr can eventually come up with a reply that reflects more positive change.
    Inevitably the glaring daily inequalities in India come to mind...

    1. Very true, Latha. At the end of the day, inequalities are bound to be there. How we handle that is what matters, and not trying to wish away inequality.