Review-Assata

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Assata by Assata Shakur is her 1988 autobiography, which is one of the audiobooks I listened to in February. It covers her life from her childhood through her escape from prison in 1979. Written from her haven in Havana, Cuba, where she is considered a political refugee, it does not cover any of her alleged criminal activity. It does cover the trials, though.

Ms. Shakur grew up splitting her time between Wilmington, North Carolina and New York City. She attended segregated schools in the south and desegregated schools in the north. She worked hard, got good grades and had a self-described stubborn streak, which eventually ended her education early. She eventually ended up going to college where she became politically active in the mid 1960's and got married. The marriage lasted less than a year. From there her activism lead her deeper and deeper into the Black Underground until she was finally arrested following a severe injury during a traffic stop which resulted in a shootout. One police officer died, as did one of Ms. Shakur's companions.

The book does not follow a straight forward timeline. It picks up after the shooting was over the night of the arrest, and follows in every other chapter from there, her trials, her acquittals, her time in jail, her experiences behind bars, her reasons for mistrust of our country's law enforcement, and the birth of her child. The other chapters start early in life, and move through up to the first non-protest related arrest.

I suppose we vociferously disagree on what her place is in American History. She would like to be called a revolutionary, and I think she fits squarely in the American tradition of outlaws. Although she would like for her struggle to be big, in the end it was small. She escaped from jail, she had contempt for the rich and the law alike. She chose to fight the world on her own terms. I'd say that sounds an awful lot like the outlaws of the Wild West. And here is where life is unfair, we romanticize those so-called heroes, and not her very real struggle for agency. Which is much more

Here I will be blunt, I found this book nauseating. Certainly in places where Ms. Shakur would want me to be nauseated, and in places where she would not. I was as viscerally offended by the racism she had to contend with growing up as I was by her response to it.  Having said that, and warned you that you might in some places feel the same way, I can say that I do recommend this book. Although I disagree with the solutions to the problems Ms. Shakur sought to address, we do agree in large part what kinds of problems America has had and continues to have. And it was strange to listen to a biography that was written thirty years ago. So many of the issues raised are now severely dated, especially after the election of Barack Obama, and the freedom of South Africa from apartheid. A book that is meant to push the reader outside of their comfort zone, does. And it is a challenge worth taking up. After all, if you don't seriously challenge your beliefs from time to time, they tend to stagnate. This book will demand your attention, challenge your ideals, criticize your beliefs, and propose a new way of life.  The question is, will you believe?


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