Book Reviews




Africa Speaks 

by Mark Goldblatt

Review by Richard Sheppard


"Yo yo yo, peeps, if you're interested in being down with the black street culture in America, yo, check out this book. Word. Word up. "Word is Bond." Fashion Institute of Technology instructor Mark Goldblatt, a conservative media contributor, nails today's street idiom in this ripping urban satire. His young black protagonist, Africa Ali (slave name, "Kevin") reveals himself through the device of being interviewed by a social scientist -- the author. Africa, a product of a New York ghettohood, is a poignant blend of street-thug arrogance and little-kid ignorance as he navigates Goldblatt's parody New York City stage. Along the way we meet Africa's some-time girlfriend Keisha, his genuine thug best friend Hercules, and other characters Goldblatt uses in exploring ghetto life and minority youth thinking. Having Africa meet and date an Asian girl allows Goldblatt to explore race and racial attitudes between two classes of "minority." White characters only exist in Africa Speaks when a character mentions them during their "interviews."

Goldblatt is white; some might suppose his satire strays to racism. It's to the author's credit that you shouldn't get this impression. His use of idiom sharply defines the characters and makes their actions "true-life." His characters are perfectly believable in their lives and opinions, and ideal device for Goldblatt to raise delicate issues in a completely rational manner. Godlblatt's mission is satire and enlightenment, not malice. 

Laugh-Out-Loud Funny with Not-So-Funny Undercurrents

The real words -- some real McCoy "ebonics" -- Goldblatt puts into fictional mouths have a superb effect for the authenticity they bring to the characters. Besides "interviewing" his main character Africa, the author, as mentioned, includes Africa's sidekicks. What develops as a "plot" are inklings of self-realization by some characters of where their lives are and where they might be going. Goldblatt's characters profess a strong loyalty to a street code and each other, but individually they express doubts and recognize there are alternatives to "the thug life." But misguided loyalty and na´ve shortsightedness holds them back as they retreat to the safety of their increasingly trite street creds. Goldblatt's chief plot hints at a previous horrific incident in Africa's life, which he reveals over the course of Africa Speaks. Ultimately this revelation for Africa is that his chief hood homey, Hercules, might not be what he seems. This growing awareness of Africa's past finally offers some counterbalancing hope that he "gets it," but the book doesn't finish on an up note. Certain parts of Africa Speaks are laugh-out-loud funny. Goldblatt also captures the not-so-funny undercurrents of ghetto youth reality with his meticulous characters, their actions, and above all, their "words."