cover image Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary

Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary

Jasmine Guy / Author, Afeni Shakur / With Atria Books $25 (240

Afeni Shakur (nee Alice Faye), the mother of deceased hip-hop star Tupac Shakur, emerges as a significant cultural emblem in her own right in this absorbing oral history. Daughter of a violent broken home, Shakur's rage at her inner demons and at white racism impelled her into a leadership position with the Black Panthers, where she navigated the treacherous currents of revolutionary and sexual politics in the Black Power movement. After government and internal dissension brought down the Panthers (""the party was ripping itself apart,"" she says), she followed a downward spiral of bad relationships, crack addiction and familial breakup, ending with 12-step redemption and a final come-back at the helm of Tupac's posthumous entertainment empire. The book is somewhat marred by the obtrusive presence of interlocutor and amanuensis Guy, an actress and friend-of-Tupac who optioned the rights to Afreni's story and too often mentions its possibilities as an uplifting biopic. At times, she is clumsy about eliciting a coherent narrative from Shakur, dilutes Shakur's often lacerating self-reproaches with Oprah-esque talk of self-esteem issues, and clutters the story with too much banter and bonding between her and her subject. Still, Shakur's distinctive voice comes through loud and clear, by turns truculent, ruminative and elegiac, and painfully aware of her many failures to live up to her own flinty moralism. The result is a complex portrait of a woman in whom the political and the personal collided with unusual force.