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Yaccub's Curse / Wrath James White

Necro Publications / October 2009
Reviewed by: Norman L. Rubenstein

Some novels work very well operating on a single, basic level - that of telling a story. Then there are novels that add a second level - that of involving and describing strong characters who are interesting over and above the novel's storyline. Perhaps the most impressive novels are those that not only tell a good story and involve strong, intriguing, multi-layered characters, but which also have something to say, something to try and  teach us concerning matters of socio-economic, religious or moral, and/or political importance. In Yaccub's Curse, author Wrath James White impressively succeeds in presenting readers with a haunting novel that proceeds to tell an interesting story, filled with fascinating people and which manages to raise important issues of race, economics, and religion without being at all "preachy."

The novel's protagonist, Malik Black, is young Black-American man, not yet twenty, who has grown up in the Germantown (or "G-town") ghetto neighborhood located in Philadelphia, PA. Malik, we soon learn is nicknamed "Snap" - because his temper is as quick as his trigger finger. He is the novel's narrator, a smart and even eloquent teen, but definitely no Beaver Cleaver.

Malik recounts his growing up: his Vietnam Vet of a father who was a hard worker, but also a hard drinker who would beat up on his mom and even his four year old self when dad was drunk. Eventually, when he was about eight, his mom left her husband and moved into G-town to live with her mother, Malik’s maternal grandmother. Malik recounts as to how his very first day, while still in the process of moving in, the local kids started his "initiation" by beating him up - and how he won his first fight and took from the bigger kid his new, name-brand sneakers which in turn cemented Malik’s place in his new community.

Malik's first two friends in G-town were Warlock, age 16 and a would-be pimp and his little brother, Nikky, who was Malik’s age and was in the gifted child program, and at age 8 could compose complex poetry which he utilized in being a young master-rapper despite being shy and quiet. They'd both been born in the even “worse” slum of North Philly, and it was only Warlock's illegal activities that enabled them to stay out of that area. Malik and Nikky find common ground in comic books. Malik identified with The Hulk because by then he was, at age 8, already 5' tall and feared by all the other neighborhood kids his age.

Malik, once he is a few years older and now the reigning fighter at his school also at first has a confrontation with two brothers who’ve just moved into the neighborhood and have fearsome reputations of their own. The older brother, Tank, is huge for his age and a ferocious fighter himself. But, as Malik finds out, Tank’s younger brother, Huey, a thin, small kid that looks more like a lover than a fighter is actually the more fearsome and impressive of the two. Malik’s relationship with these two moves from hostility to becoming as close as brothers.

Author White paints evocative pictures with words. As one example, here’s Malik describing his neighborhood on a typical summer’s day:

“Wasn’t much of anything going down in the G that day. Water gun fights, crack pipes flickering in the dark alleys that provided the only shade on our treeless little street. Those who had someone to fuck were sweating in their lover’s embrace propagating the next generation of the poor, hopeless, and pissed-da-fuck-off. Hip-hop music boomed from every radio, the bass thundering like the ghetto’s heartbeat, a testosterone thunder-drum pounding out the rhythm and song of Black rage and rebellion.”

Then there’s Malik responding, after class while they are alone, to his teacher’s question as to why this brilliant honor’s student will speak perfect, even eloquent, grammatical English while in class, yet insists upon reverting to “ghetto-speak” outside of school:

“Because I don’t live in the world of books and poetry. I live in the damned ghetto and what good is language except to communicate? What good are fancy words that no one understands? I talk to you this way because this is what you understand. But I talk slang in the street because that’s the language they understand out there. My mom taught me that the dialects of the streets are just as complex and beautiful as the Queen’s English and that I should learn that language just as well as book language so that I can communicate with everyone. You see, Black folks have to live in two worlds, the world of Business and Academia, the White world, and the world of the streets. You feel me?”

Wrath James White is able to relate to readers what growing up as a young, disadvantaged Black in an American ghetto actually means, but does so in a matter-of-fact manner that brings it vividly to life for the reader while never interrupting the flow of the underlying story itself.

Yaccub’s Curse, while in part focusing on Malik and his family and friends, also centers around the novel’s chief antagonist and villain, Scratch. He is white/Caucasian and a drug dealer from North Philly who is extremely dangerous and brutal, and speaks in an exaggerated ghetto patois that verges upon the humorous – but nobody ever laughs at Scratch, at least if they want to continue breathing. Scratch employed an army of over a thousand drug pushers, of which the worst and most violent, who was also the best pure salesman for drugs, and who was his de facto second in command was Yellow Dog - who is also very light skinned, and could almost pass for “White.” Scratch also has a "thing" for very pregnant whores. He kills one young Muslim woman who had an unfortunate Crack addiction and as per the police who found her buried body, it looked as if someone had used his bare hands and teeth to rip out her unborn child from her womb.

Malik's very first introduction to Scratch is when Malik is a young child and sees Scratch shoot a Jamaican drug dealer in the head and then scoop out and eat his brains, something that Scratch makes a habit of doing for reasons best left to the reader to discover – and it is telling that Malik is neither horrified nor disgusted nor sickened by this, but rather fascinated and curious. Malik next meets up with Scratch a few years later on a fateful day while Malik is in the company of Huey and Tank and the encounter leads to all three of them eventually working for Scratch, with Malik becoming Scratch’s trusted advisor and chief enforcer. How and why the relationship between Malik and Scratch turns from one of mutual trust and friendly employer and employee to mortal enemies is a principal plot point of the novel.

While the horror that seems an integral part of what experiencing life from within the modern American ghetto entails – the almost unimaginable indignities that man can perpetrate upon his fellow man – is certainly sufficient in and of itself to rightly categorize Yaccub’s Curse as a horror novel, author White adds a fascinating and terrifying supernatural element to the novel’s storyline that doubly ensures the novel’s categorization as “horror.” The novel’s title itself refers to a tenet of belief of the Black Muslim faith, as espoused by Elijah Muhammad and his followers, that Black people are superior to all other peoples and that the White race are devils and were created from genetic material of the Black race by an evil scientist, Yaccub, on the island of Patmos, approximately 6,600 years ago, and that eventually the original Black race will overcome and regain dominance over the “tricks and lies” utilized by the artificially created White race that have held them in subservience for over 6,000 years. The author utilizes this belief as a starting point and then performs a brilliant cognitive improvisational riff that will keep readers on the edge of their proverbial seats through to the novel’s very last sentence.

Yaccub’s Curse is a genuinely frightening novel of supernatural horror that will also gently provide a true “teachable moment” for those of use not having been ourselves neither Black nor brought up in one of our American ghettos of what life is like there and what conditions and even horrors such a life can engender, as well as learning how much we are yet all alike and similar under our skins in our capacities to love, learn, and aspire, and in our failings and flaws. It is an absolutely riveting read and well worth taking the journey. This is a novel that could, and probably should be considered for high school and college literature courses throughout the USA, but that, in all events, will enlighten as well as entertain. Kudos to both author Wrath James White and to publisher Necro Publications for having released this novel.

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Posted on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 09:54AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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