Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I've read two books this month and both are worth reviews though for different reasons.

Buck is a memoir by a young man named MK Asante.  I was in the Watertown library several weeks ago and, instead of doing what I had gone there to do, started looking at my computer (which I could have done at home) to see what my former adviser has churned out of late.

My dissertation adviser is a man named Molefi Kete Asante.  He has written, no exaggeration, over 60 books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  When I met him he was 31 and I, 23. At that time just one year over thirty he had written five books. One was an anthology he had edited, so call it four but still an anthology counts for plenty in terms of time and energy and coordination and soliciting manuscripts.

Every time I have looked to see what he has done lately-- I notice that he has written two or three books since the last time I had checked.  I saw on my computer list, that there was a book called Buck written by MK Asante and it was a memoir.  I had not known that my adviser had written a memoir and was eager to read it.  I checked and the Watertown library had the book.  I found it on the shelves and started reading.

When I saw the cover and simply read the book flap I realized that this book was not written by my adviser, but by his son whom I never met. When Molefi was at the University of Buffalo where I studied, MK Asante was not yet born.

I started reading Buck and while the first few pages did not grab me the more I read, the more engaged I became, so I decided to read it through. It's a short book--about 250 pages.

The most interesting parts to me were those that referred to his dad.  Interesting yes. Bothersome, also yes. The depictions of Molefi troubled me.  I have no idea about how Molefi was as a father, but I know he is as industrious a person as I have ever met.  And his dedication to his scholarly work and perspectives is unrivaled.  He is not the sort of fellow who sees something offensive and says, "What can you do?"  He does something about it. And the son does not give the dad the credit he is due.

Buck is about the son's evolution from a ne'er do well who keeps getting thrown out of school and into trouble, to someone who sees the light and exercises his creative abilities when he is enrolled in an alternative school.  The younger Asante has, he claims, an epiphany when staring at a blank piece of paper which compels him to express himself. The younger Asante has expressed himself with the well reviewed Buck and his poetry and some hip hop work.

The thing is that without Molefi and the young man's mother, an accomplished choreographer, the child does not get three chances at high school. His parents first enrolled him in a private school in Philadelphia from which he was tossed. Then he goes to a public school in Philadelphia where he is part of the problem. And then finally after he gets into big trouble, the parents find him an alternative school.  If it wasn't for his parents and their concern for him,  the son never makes it to the moment when he has the epiphany. If it wasn't for his dad I will bet that the young man does not get into prestigious graduate schools, nor get a tenure track job, nor get tenure at a very early age.

His father's efforts and love paved the way, and young Asante (as well as his step brother)  does not give his dad the respect he deserves.  If I did not know Molefi I would have a far different impression of him because of reading the book.  The son does do an excellent job of drawing the father in certain moments.  I can see Molefi speaking and acting as he is portrayed in many of the scenes. But overall, MK Asante does not do his old man justice.  The kid is where he is because he got a shot at having an epiphany. Asante the senior, was one of 16 kids in the rural south who was reared when Jim Crow still had a strong hand. And Asante, with no dad paving the way, became a full professor with tenure with five books at 31.  With no dad paving the way, MK Asante, is not a full professor with tenure.

Buck was a good read, but it troubled me.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett will get a separate blog in a day or two.

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