Book Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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An annotated collection of new and previously published essays on the Obama era by the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, including an interview with the President himself.

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When I read the author’s award winning book Between the World and Me, I was completely blown away. And I knew I would have to checkout his other books as well. This one came from the library at an opportune time, I was kind of in a slump and was definitely looking for a nonfiction and I’m glad I picked this up. And all I can say is I’m extremely unqualified to write a review for this one.

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I didn’t know that this book was a compilation of eight of his essays from the eight years of the Obama presidency. And while I feared that that might make them a bit dated, and maybe a few points in them were, the author also gives a detailed explanation before each essay about his own personal journey during the time of the writing, the decisions he took during the process and is always self-critical about everything that he may have missed or misjudged. This lends so much more context and meaning to the articles themselves, and I loved getting to know both the author and his writings.

While each of the eight articles are important in their own right, my interest in them varied depending on how much I was aware of the topics beforehand or even in the way they were written. The piece on mass incarceration was one I had already read before but it’s worth a read again and holds a mirror to the kind of punitive and discriminatory society we live in. His various impressions of President Obama, the joy of seeing the first black president but also being critical of his policies and grappling with these dual emotions, and then not being entirely surprised by the backlash he received which culminated in the disaster that was 2016 – these were fascinating, emotional and even painful to read about, especially his epilogue about the current president and the way white supremacy is the undeniable core of this democracy.

But the two articles that really captured my mind were the one about Civil War and the other about reparations. They both showcase the systemic oppression from slavery to present day incarceration, interspersed in the middle with the civil war, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining and various other policies that have kept black oppression in place – and how the country, the politicians and its policies have striven to erase the people of their collective memory of the atrocity of it all and use platitudes to absolve themselves of the generational trauma caused upon millions of people which lasts till today. And the author rightly asserts that until the country, and particularly its white citizens reflect honestly and accept the truth about their past, there really can’t be an effective way forward towards inclusion and healing.

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In the end, you might be wondering why my so called review is so disjointed and incoherent, but it’s just that the scope of ideas the author talked about in this book are vast and very important and I just don’t think I have the right vocabulary or understanding to talk about them. But this has really taught me a lot, and also made me want to read in depth about the subjects. Hope you will too.

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