Reviewed by: Push Nevahda
“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolia, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world….”
Freedom Speaks Diaspora’s new book, Manjani, has to be the best urban novel I’ve read in the last 3 years. It’s fresh, intelligent, raw, honest, intelligent, and deeply critical - certainly not the normal rubbish a book reviewer gets bombarded with on a regular basis. Manjani is a literary powerhouse, everybody’s protest novel, and a classic tribute to what Columbia University Professor Ann Douglass calls “the oldest American story of all, the [girl] sets out on life, on [her] adventures.” Hold your fist up; this is Manjani!
Manjani Jackson is an unusually gifted child with the intellectual prowess of an untapped genius, the pubescent disposition uncommon in most young girls (mostly complacent and content), possessed of some mystic ability to visit with the dead. Manjani is clearly not your average girl. Jaded by cynicism, with a festering disdain for “puppies”, Manjani begins the novel on a poetic note of lyrical brilliance - a prologue which speaks directly to the first chapter of Dubois’s Souls of Black Folks:
“Strange as it sounds to those born ignorant, I was born conscious. With three eyes open. Covered in bright red Shango blood, the green Mongolian mass that covered my proud Black ass bore witness to the fact that I was made of something else. So are the peoples born with the mark, but growing up, I didn’t care anything about them. Latinos were “Spics,” Middle Easterners were “Arabs,” and asians were “Ching-Chong.” Black people were “nappy-headed,” but that was just talking shit. Black had always been beautiful and everything else didn’t exist…. Except white.”
Manjani is pro-black, reads black books, quotes black authors, and loves black revolutionaries. Yet, underneath this brash exterior is another story that makes Manjani much more relatable to the things we see every day and know all too well. Manjani’s mother is crazy, and her father is a washed-up has-been, turncoat, and has another family elsewhere. Before long, Manjani realizes that the life she thought was real has been nothing more than a fistful of lies and deceptions. To escape the madness, Manjani runs into the protective confines of a revolutionary college that trains young men and women to become revolutionaries. This is where Manjani gets her real lesson in life and finds out that the revolution had been televised, and is now more a façade than a possibility. In this following lengthy passage, FSD gives a profound critique on the current Black Revolution, and the state of the Black America:
“I think our ideology has a bunch of our trash that we can’t manage so we need larger society to help us with it. We create the trash. And don’t get me wrong. I love my people, I love the idea of healthy revolution, but this is not healthy. Think about the babies born here. They might as well be born into the garbage box since they live so close.”
“Whoa!” I said. Shauntay sounded like an agent to me. Technically, they’re born inside of this box – the outer box – not the garbage box.”
This philosophical exchange between Manjani and her roommates makes her realize that her revolutionary struggle is internal and personal. In the end, Manjani is able to break free from life’s constraints to realize her full (individual) potential. FSD leaves no stone unturned as she tackles everything from teenage-sex, drugs, religion, race, class, gender, and homosexuality. I highly recommend this book, and I think it should be a required reading in urban school districts.
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