Book Review

I just recently re-read the book “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”, which was written by Manning Marable, and published in 2011. I purchased the book as soon as it came out; the book was published on April 4th, 2o11, and I bought my copy on April 7th of the same year. I can’t remember what prompted me to buy the book or where the recommendation came from to read it, but I did read it. I was a little skeptical about the book, because it hinted at Malcolm’s version of his life, as told to Alex Haley in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, as being somewhat exaggerated, and that Malcolm had a knack of reinventing himself, hence the name of the book. Marable explored in depth some of the areas of Malcolm’s story that Malcolm himself kind of glossed over or didn’t go into detail about.

When I first read this book 5 years ago, the skepticism was such that I wasn’t ready to hear any kind of criticisms of one of the greatest iconic figures of our time, both in the Muslim and the non-Muslim world. One of the things that disturbed me was when Marable explored some of Malcolm’s sexual exploits during his days of crime in Boston. When I got to that part, I was ready to put the book down and dismiss it as an attempt to put Malcolm in a bad light. Even during the FBI’s secret surveillance of Malcolm, they were hard pressed to really find any ‘dirt’ on him. I remember watching Spike Lee’s production of the autobiography, and there was one line in the movie where one of the FBI agents said, “Compared to King, this guy’s a saint.” That was in reference to Dr. Martin Luther King and the stories of infidelity, which were mentioned in detail in “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, an autobiographical account by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King’s closest friend. Any allegations of any kind of sexual misconduct on Malcolm’s part had never surfaced from the time that his autobiography was published in 1965, at least not anything that was widely known. What makes Marable’s research so interesting is not that he deliberately looked for dirt on Malcolm or anything, but he was able to weigh Malcolm’s narrative against a number of other sources in his discovery. He states in the dedication:

“My primary purpose in this book is to go beyond the legend: to recount what actually occurred in Malcolm’s life. I also present the facts that Malcolm himself could not know, such as the extent of illegal FBI and New York Police Department surveillance and acts of disruption against him, the truth about those among his supporters who betrayed him politically and personally, and the identification of those responsible for Malcolm’s assassination.”

In being objective despite of the personal feelings I have about Malcolm, I would have to say that Marable’s research did indeed add up, as it gave a different perspective on Malcolm’s life. He had a chance to review everything, from Malcolm’s letters that he wrote back home to Michigan when he first moved to Roxbury with his half-sister Ella, to the correspondence that he had while he was in prison with a number of women, and even access to personal accounts of people who engaged Malcolm while he was alive. The autobiography doesn’t mention some key points of interest, such as Malcolm’s extensive relationship with Bea Caragulian, the White woman of Armenian descent (depicted as Sophia in the movie “X”), as well as Evelyn Williams, the woman who hung in there with Malcolm during his bid, and even joined the Nation of Islam because of him. Now I don’t want to give away the book, but there was an interesting connection between Malcolm, Evelyn, and Elijah Muhammad, which obviously played a part in the dissension that developed between those two men, and even some revealing information about who was actually involved in Malcolm’s assassination. Suffice it to say that Marable in no way puts Malcolm in a bad light, and the book probably won’t diminish his iconic status in the eyes of people, but it definitely gave a fresh perspective after re-reading it. I would encourage people to read it objectively. Some people have objected to Marable’s portrayal of Malcolm in his book, and a response to it has been published, titled “A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X”. That one is on the to-do list!

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