Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Synopsis: Handsome, young, Muslim, and married to two women living in one house along with his mother, Umma, and sister, Naja: can Midnight manage? He is surrounded by Americans who don’t share or understand his faith or culture, and adults who are offended by his maturity, intelligence, or his natural ability to make his hard work turn into real money. He is calm, confident, and cool, Ninja-trained and powerful, but one moment of rage throws this Brooklyn youth into a dark world of dirty police, gangs, guns, drugs, prisons, and prisoners. Everything he ever believed, every dollar he ever earned, and all of the women he ever loved—including his mother—are at risk.
In this heart-pounding adventure, thriller, and intense narrative, New York Times bestselling author Sister Souljah has penned her most passionate and engrossing novel to date. Raw and uncompromising, her storytelling highlights and ignites the ongoing struggle of young men worldwide, to more than survive, but to live strong, to earn, to have the right to love and protect their families, to receive justice, and to be free.
Review: Midnight, a sixteen-year-old Muslim ninja from Sudan with two wives, is supposedly, represents the epitome of manhood: he protects and provides for “his women,” he has a strong faith, he is intelligent, he engages in legitimate business, and he is a dependable friend. One of his wives’ Aunts describes him as having “this compelling beauty and implacable charm.” Sister Souljah’s latest offering of the Midnight series is set up like a guideline on how to steer the lost, the broken, and the confused men of America onto the righteous path Midnight walks–Midnight delivers several asides on what a “true” man is supposed to do. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t convinced.
Beyond being an epic-novel full of adventures and mystery, A Moment of Silence, is a critique on Western Culture, especially America and its criminal justice system, and, specifically, African-Americans. Midnight is an immigrant and continues to remind us of his outsider status as he launches several critiques on African-American men, women, families, and belief in Christianity.
“It was next to impossible for me to understand the African-American mindset. Most of them were mad at the things that should make them happy, I thought, and content and stagnant with the things that should make them make moves. Too many of them hated the exact things that they should love, I thought.” – A Moment of Silence
Yet, despite Midnight’s refusal to affiliate himself with the African-Americans he critiques, he finds himself facing a reality many black men are forced to live with–police brutality. A case of mistaken identity lands Midnight in tangled, biased web of the American Criminal Justice System whose scales are often unbalanced. It is when Souljah delves into the perverse system of “justice” that she offers some of her most eloquent pieces of prose. Through Midnight’s naive position–though he would never admit to it–as a “foreigner” Souljah explores exactly how police brutality and the institution of prisons “break men.”
“Being cuffed and trapped was expected. But what they kill you with is what no decent men would ever do, or ever expect to be done. It’s the extra shit that has nothing to do with being questioned, or with being charged with a crime, or even with being sentenced or with serving time as a just punishment” – A Moment of Silence
Such insights are, perhaps, this novel’s only saving grace because after moving beyond the critique of police brutality and the prison structure, there is thinly-veiled sexism that permeates the entire novel. The attention may be on the protagonist of the story and evaluating the state of black men in America, but women also play a major role–however silent they are forced to be.
Women are continuously described as “naive,” emotional creatures who are helpless without a man’s intelligence and protection.
“I need for my sister and mother and wives to be untouched, unseen, uninterrupted and unknown to anyone who we, and they have not chosen to be apart of our world” – A Moment of Silence
Midnight literally builds a wall around his house to cage his mother, sister, and two wives inside. They are not permitted to leave unless they are accompanied by him or he approves of their travels. His friends are not allowed to see or speak to his wives and any other man who so much as expresses concern for one of his wives is classified as an enemy. All of this is defined as “protection”.
One of Midnight’s wives, Chiasa, who is also a ninja, is almost capable of being an independent woman with her own thoughts and feelings–there is a moment when she begins to question Midnight about his “protection” of her–thus being an attempt to dispel the sexist stereotype of Islam, but the way Chiasa so easily concedes to Midnight’s explanation that women can do everything, as long as women “do it among women, and men among men,”continues to fuel the stereotype and illustrates Midnight’s belief that Chiasa, nor any other woman, is equal to a man.
While women were limited and silenced throughout the novel, ironically, so is masculinity. The depiction of “manhood” in A Moment of Silence is rooted in the silencing, damaging encouragement of hyper-masculinity:
“Men fight. Men work. Men defend. Men murder” – A Moment of Silence
Midnight praises a trait that continues to plague, specifically, black men today. This notion that men are nothing more than brutes forces them to silence their emotions and render any expression of them as a “feminine” trait. There is no plurality to maleness in A Moment of Silence. When homosexuality does appear in the novel, it is described as a “circumstance” and “disease” that can easily be cured by having a strong male figure–in this case, Midnight–and a pretty, modestly dressed, respectable Muslim girl. At first glance it’s comical, upon deeper reflection it’s frightening to have such ignorance delivered as a helpful manual for men as if “true manhood” is a uniform one size fits all mindset and life-style.
In the midst of such cringe-worthy themes there is an actual plot, and several sub plots, to the story. Midnight commits a crime that is contradictorily described as criminal and commendable. Somehow he also gets wrapped up in a drug-bust that lands him in jail. As he traverses the vile, and seedy corruption of prison, he attempts to maintain a clear conscious and pure heart, all easily achieved by remaining silent. It is through silence that he learns “the demons that live in men.”
The novel skips back-and-forth between past and present interactions Midnight has exclusively with men–there is a chapter dedicated to a “she-officer,” an Aunt, and his female attorney. Through these interactions Midnight reveals how he manages to pass all of the tests on his character, never making a mistake–except for the one that lands him in prison. Unfortunately, the plot is not as engaging as one may think. The ending is an anti-climatic twist that was more of an easy way out of a confusing web than an actual resolve. I have no doubts another Midnight book will be coming, I have even fewer doubts that I’ll be reading it.
I struggled to complete this book. Seriously, it took me a month to finish, and the staggering 535 pages weren’t solely to blame as I am not a reader who shies away from larger novels. It was Souljah’s depiction of manhood, and love that I found myself questioning. While I could agree with her critique of the justice system and the fact that “we are at war” when it comes to police brutality, I could not concede to the idea that Midnight’s example was the answer for freedom. I continued reading because I was waiting for some sort of shift or growth in Midnight’s character. I was hoping the sexism and hyper-masculinity talk was that of a young, naively arrogant, sixteen-year-old boy. But there was no shift, there was no growth, apart from him understanding how he got caught in the drug bust and how the prison system worked. Midnight is a static character. Whatever charm that bedazzles his wife, his peers, the “she-officer,” and his attorney is completely lost on me. If this is a guideline for men across the world on how to “restore” masculinity and gain freedom, then a moment of silence is definitely needed to reflect on the dangers of the outline presented.