Manchild in the Promised Land

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Book Summary: Published in 1965, Manchild in the Promised Land is an inner city coming-of-age tale first and foremost. Claude Brown’s fictionalized retelling of his own life is a complex story of survival and hope; one that history often buries for convenience sake. Raised on the streets of poverty-stricken Harlem, Brown’s childhood was one of crime, drugs, hustlers and violence all recounted in angry slice of life details. Brown’s protagonist Sonny spends time in and out of various reform schools from the age of nine. When not at school he spends his days selling drugs and hanging out with his Italian friend Minetti. He grows up, gets his GED and moves down south to live with his grandparents for a brief time escaping from his city prison. But the book doesn’t reach majestic heights until he returns to Harlem as a young man. It is there that we see why Sonny had to escape his home, why he had to get out of Harlem. His younger brother was living the same criminal life he used to; close friends and loved ones had overdosed from heroin. All around him chaos is swirling as the Civil Rights Movement barrels forward. Though he experienced both the peaceful non-violent resistance favored down south and the black power movement favored in the northern inner cities, it becomes evident that Sonny was too busy surviving his own life to be concerned with Civil Rights. Sonny, and by extension Claude Brown as well, grew up to understand that there was no solution to black equality. While he may have been angry at his environment, he was intelligent enough to know that blacks cannot function in America without help from their white counterparts. He saw people for what they were and understood what he needed to do to get away from Harlem and save himself without having to rely on others such as the SCLC, the Islamic faith, or the black power movement. Coming-of-age tales generally make the most compelling memoirs, there is nothing like rooting for a person to become the best...
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