cover image A Disjointed Search for the Will to Live

A Disjointed Search for the Will to Live

Shaka N'Zinga. Soft Skull Press, $13 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-887128-77-3

N'Zinga has been in a Baltimore penitentiary since the age of 16, when he was convicted of the gang-rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl. The circumstances of N'Zinga's arrest and sentencing include a state-appointed attorney who showed up only long enough to tell N'Zinga not to bother fighting the charges, and conflicting testimony that shows some evidence of police coercion. According to N'Zinga himself and to Marc Salotte, whose afterword in this book stages a defense of its author, N'Zinga got wind of the plan to rape his young white neighbor, and decided to take a walk rather than stick around for the act. This back-story would seem irrelevant if it were not for the simple fact that N'Zinga's own writing in this passionate tract is framed by a troubling extended metaphor: the seductive white""she-devil,"" a symbol for the system that seduces and then ruins young black men,""she who hails from some desolate place in Northern Europe; Mary be her foul name."" The book swings back and forth between enjambed prose-poetry and impassioned political discourse, some wildly bad (and deeply offensive), some strikingly beautiful. Presenting himself as someone who was""raped/at the age of six, branded/ retarded at the age of nine,/ called useless at the age of 12,/ banned from all schools at 14,/ charged as a rapist at 16,/ and shoved into prison, raped/ yet again at 17 and 18,/ dying to be free of all pain/ at 19, reclaim life at 20./ Seeking justice at 21,"" N'Zinga, at very least, raises questions that few want to think about, let alone answer.