Rookie author Douglas Century delivers a gritty account of street life in urban America. Street Kingdom started out in 1992 as an odd-couple friendship between Century, a Jewish-Canadian Princeton alum, and Big K, a black New Yorker trying to overcome his criminal past and become a rap star. Their five-year relationship--full of culture clashes at turns funny, depressing, and harrowing--allows Century to examine prison life, the sociology of gangs, and the meaning of success in the 1990s. Big K is an irresistible character study: a 270-pound, larger-than-life, one-man melting pot with roots in Jamaica and Panama. His raps blend Caribbean slang, Spanish influences, and the sensibilities (and insensibilities) of urban America. The book's heavy use of profanity may be authentic, but it's also numbing, and Century's decision to use aliases diminishes his otherwise fine journalism. Yet there is much to recommend: the narrative is strong, and Century (who has written for Forward and the New York Times) occasionally recalls the powerful work of Alex Kotlowitz and Ron Suskind. Readers interested in the human side of urban pathology will want to discover this promising new talent. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
It is hard to imagine any outsider writing about contemporary black street life with more integrity and sustained, impassioned curiosity than Century. His five-year chronicle of the Franklin Avenue Posse, a Brooklyn street gang, is at once mesmerizing, humorous and tragic. In 1992, then a freelance writer and music critic, Century befriended a rapper he calls Big K. Century hung out with Big K for three years before he decided to write about the experience. By that time, he had heard Big K's stories of his past: his days in juvenile detention homes; his bouts as a boxer; his participation in the violent drug wars of the 1980s as a member of the Posse. Century had also met many of his new friend's former running mates, many of whom, like Big K, were now struggling to stay straight. Holding all the narrative threads together is the person of Big K, a charismatic Caribbean-American (the descendant of Jamaicans who migrated to Panama) with bullet scars in his shoulders. The friendship between Century, who's white, and Big K is remarkable, and the many instances of misunderstanding between them are as funny as they are revealing: Big K asks Century if he wants to "take some money"; Century thinks he's being asked to commit a crime when, in fact, Big K is using street slang for weightlifting; then, at the gym, Big K suavely stows his loaded .45 in Century's locker. A heady mixture of reportage and memoir, Century's book shatters both the demonizing and the romantic stereotypes readers may have of inner-city black men. It brings the fullness of their lives?the violence, the desire, the dazzling intelligence and energy struggling for constructive outlets?to the page with stunning candor and humanity.
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