I’ll go ahead and admit up front that I am not all that familiar with Malcolm X. I know who he is and that he was a Civil Rights activist and he was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 1992 movie named after him but that’s about it. I didn’t even know that his birth last name had been Little or that he was Muslim. Sad, I know, but that’s the state of history in my schooling and I’m working on better educating myself on the African American history but still pretty far behind.
I picked this audiobook up as a replacement for X Marks the Spot: Women Writers Map the Empire for British Children, 1790–1895 as my Letter X for Litsy A to Z reading challenge. It was long and I was having a hard time getting into it. When I saw this book and it was written Malcom X’s daughter, I knew I had to change over.
The book focuses on the early life of Malcolm X, when he was known as Malcolm Little. It’s a fictionalized account so there is some artistic license and filling in of gaps in his biography in order to make a story. My favorite part is the way the words of his father haunt him throughout his early life in this account. The impact his father had begun to have on him is offset by both his death and the words of a teacher which seemed to embody the way the people in power saw him, they way they treated his father. I appreciated that he had both a positive and negative influence to rebel against, it was interesting to see the way those influences interacted to inform his decisions.
Malcolm Little’s road to becoming Malcolm X was not at all what I would have expected. While he had never tried to be a “model minority“, as I had been erroneously taught about other Civil Rights leaders, I hadn’t expected him to be so disillusioned about the fight so young. I would have just as well assumed that he had always been in the thick of it.
I loved the shifting names alongside the developing identities. It made sense out of why he would choose to officially change and take off the Little when he did, despite the influence of his father. There’s more to a name and what it means than the closest relative who shared it with you.
I’m so glad I made the change to read this book instead. It was entertaining and made me want to read his actual biography. There’s a note at the end that specifies which characters were made up, which simply had pseudonyms, and some composites. It also explains some scenes that were filled in and segments specifically mentioned by Malcolm X in his own writing. As mentioned above, Shabazz is his daughter and had been told stories that wouldn’t have been publicly available, which she shares here. To assume that there is no bias or justifications would likely be erroneous, but so would an assumption that she was particularly attempting some sort of good will or rewriting of the facts. As it is, I’m going to be reading a biography in my future to get the rest of the story too.