cover image Make Believe: A True Story

Make Believe: A True Story

Diana Athill. Steerforth Press, $18 (130pp) ISBN 978-1-883642-21-1

Occasionally compelling, this brief book recounts a lost episode from the ``radical chic'' era, British division. In 1969, Athill ( Instead of a Letter ), a well-bred, 50-ish London editor, met Hakim Jamal, an African American risen from drugs and drink through the teachings of Malcolm X. With cool economy, she recalls how her relationship with Jamal, 14 years her junior, intensified from editing his autobiography to friendship to sex; she tells of his strange relationship with Jean Seberg and of his abusive, guru-like friendship with the daughter of a one-time member of Parliament, who so embraced his teachings about white guilt that ``she wanted to turn herself black.'' But Athill overlooked indications of Jamal's madness--he described himself as God--until they were inescapable. She effectively conveys his humane and mesmerizing qualities and her sadness at his violent demise--he was shot to death in 1973--seems genuine. But the author tells too little of herself to make the memoir memorable. (Mar.)