Having read the author's seminal work "Kaffir Boy", recounting the incredible hardships in the South African ghetto where he was raised, I was eager to learn more about how Mark Mathabane fared once he arrived in his so-called "promised land" and started the adjustment from a repressed third-world existence to one of opportunity and possibility in the US.
Two things struck me about this follow up account of his life which bear mentioning: the author continues with his unflinchingly honest style of revealing everything, good and bad, in his experience; and secondly, the adjustment was difficult, because of the obvious cultural differences (and some similarities) to South Africa, together with the author's intense personality (which could also be seen, arguably, as stubbornness). Mathabane is unquestionably well read, highly intelligent, highly motivated and has strong opinions. Those are not faults, although he does tend to be a little unnecessarily verbose at times (and this, despite him quoting writers who warn against such things); his opining and at times unwillingness to bend or compromise or adapt to others led him to change or discontinue college courses at least four times, and some would say, squander opportunities. That last point is in the end, probably unsustainable, since he has accomplished much, and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams in reaching a wide and sympathetic audience for his story and work.
It is obvious that Mathabane, after having seen so much suffering and rising above it, does not want to be conventional, which led him to discontinue studies under scholarships at schools that most college students would covet the opportunity to attend. To his credit, he does not try to hide these issues, nor does he hide the, at times, incredulity and head-shaking from those well-meaning and intelligent friends, including Stan Smith and others, who question his decisions and direction.
Mathabane brought to light, at a very needed time, the struggles of South Africa under apartheid. I found him more compelling, more convincing and I felt more empathetic in reading his experiences in South Africa in "Kaffir Boy", than in his recounting of his new life in America in this book, although there are some good passages which shine light on how a form of apartheid, economic and power-oriented as much as racial, still exists in America today. In the end, people of various persuasions appear to have looked to Mathabane to argue their view, be it Christian, humanist, liberal or conservative. I don't think any one group is entirely comfortable with where he sits. It seems at times that he is a little conflicted about where his beliefs lie. It can be frustrating at times, but ultimately this is not a measured and resolute work of fiction, but a true story of this man's life, with all its faults, contradictions and accomplishments wrapped up together.