Friday, October 29, 2010

Memoir #4 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

Author: Wes Moore
Publisher/Format: Spiegel & Grau (2010), E-book, 256 pages
Characters: Wes Moore, Wes Moore
Subject: Growing up black male in America
Setting: Baltimore, Bronx, Valley Forge PA
Genre: Memoir
Source: e book download from public library

Last week our public library began offering patrons the opportunity to download e-books that can be read on the computer or transferred to various e-readers.  I wanted to test the technology, and read something in this format to see whether I'd really be happy if Santa brought an e-reader.  As I was browsing through over 1000 books available in this initial offering, I found this book set in Baltimore that seemed to fit perfectly into my current "Month of Memoirs" reading.

I grew up and went to school in Baltimore and the short length of this book made this a perfect trial.  Besides, it was a well-written and poignant story.  Wes Moore is the name of two different black men who were both born in Baltimore, who both lost their fathers at a very early age, and who were raised by hard-working single mothers.  They each had siblings, they both were encouraged to stay in school, they both had early run-ins with law enforcement, but one of them became a Rhodes scholar and intern to Condeleeza Rice, the other is spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison without hope of parole for his part in a robbery gone bad in which a Baltimore policeman was killed.

The two did not know each other until the author read about the arrest of the other Wes Moore. As he heard about the background of the suspect/later convicted felon, he began to ponder the similarities in their lives and asked himself what made the difference in their lives.  His initial letter to Wes the prisoner led to many visits where the two men began to delve into their backgrounds and differences.  Wes the prisoner blames no one but himself.  Wes the journalist is able to see how the strong male role models in his life, and the chances he was afforded because of those men, gave him opportunities which he was fortunate enough to take advantage of.  Both men agree that a country that values youth, instead of fearing them, that helps them look at a future that has options will help youth overcome the helplessness so many feel today.

Wes the author was fortunate enough to have grandparents who mortgaged their house to pay  his tuition to a private military academy after he got into trouble in the public schools.  He hated it at first, but eventually flourished under the structure and discipline and mentoring of the military veterans who ran the school.  He quotes one of his role models at the school:
When it is time for your to leave this school, leave this job or leave this earth, you make sure that you have worked hard enough to make sure that it mattered that you were even here."
The author goes on to add "...the notion that life is transient, that it can come and go quickly...has been with me since I had seen my father die....the idea of life's impermanence underlined everything for kids my age--it drove some of us to a paralyzing apathy, stopped us from even thinking too far into the future."
Neither Wes has a definitive answer why each made the choices he did.  Wes the prisoner has embraced Islam, and is accepting of his fate.  He sees his four children occasionally, but finds those visits only amplify his sense of helplessness in being able to influence their lives.  Wes the author is enjoying a successful career as a journalist, served with the Army in Afghanistan, and as been fortunate enough to have adventures around the world.

The book has an extensive appendix listing programs that help youth at risk, and urges adults to become involved.  It is left for the reader to decide the reasons for the different paths of each,  and to decide how he or she can help.

A note on the e-book format:  I found this format not as onerous as I'd expected, although I think it will be much more comfortable on an e-reader than having to sit with a lap-top screen.  I found I could not read for longer than about 30 minutes at a stretch.  The software and download program were quite easy to use, and I like being able to grab a book on a moment's notice without having to go to the library or bookstore. I'm sure if I get an e-reader, I'll certainly be able to use it, although I'll never be able to give up print or audio books.


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