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In a shattering work that shifts between a woman's private anguish over the loss of her beloved baby cousin and a scholar's fierce critique of the American prison system, Danielle Allen seeks answers to what, for many years, felt unanswerable. Why? Why did her cousin, a precocious young man who dreamed of being a firefighter and a writer, end up dead? Why did he languish in prison? And why, at the age of 15, was he in an alley in South Central Los Angeles, holding a gun while trying to steal someone's car?
Cuz means both "cousin" and "because". In this searing memoir, Allen unfurls a "new American story" about a world tragically transformed by the sudden availability of narcotics and the rise of street gangs - a collision, followed by a reactionary War on Drugs, that would devastate not only South Central LA but virtually every urban center in the nation. At 13, sensitive, talkative Michael Allen was suddenly tossed into this cauldron, a violent world where he would be tried at 15 as an adult for an attempted carjacking, and where he would be sent, along with an entire generation, cascading into the spiral of the Los Angeles prison system.
Throughout her cousin Michael's 11 years in prison, Danielle Allen - who became a dean at the University of Chicago at the age of 32 - remained psychically bonded to her self-appointed charge, visiting Michael in prison and corresponding with him regularly. When she finally welcomed her baby cousin home, she adopted the role of "cousin on duty", devotedly supporting Michael's fresh start while juggling the demands of her own academic career.
As Cuz heartbreakingly reveals, even Allen's devotion, as unwavering as it was, could not save Michael from the brutal realities encountered by newly released young men navigating the streets of South Central. The corrosive entanglements of gang warfare, combined with a star-crossed love for a gorgeous woman driving a gold Mercedes, would ultimately be Michael's undoing.
In this Ellisonian story of a young African American man's coming of age in late 20th-century America, and of the family who will always love Michael, we learn how we lost an entire generation.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Paul on 02-26-18
An important book hampered by writing and reading
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I first read an excerpt of this book in the Guardian. It had obviously been heavily edited, and the entire book would have benefited from the same process.
The story told is incredibly interesting and important. Unfortunately it is written in a style that needs to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Endless quotes of poetry, gospel and philosophers which bear a lose connection to the main story at best. Unnecessary parable and hyperbole.
The parts where Ms. Allen quotes from texts written by her cousin were outright refreshing to listen to.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Cuz?
The surprisingly unbiased look at how a life went wrong covers angles not often discussed without slipping into comfortable stereotypes of "it's all the fault of X".
What didn’t you like about Danielle Allen’s performance?
Ms. Allen finds her reading voice toward the second half of the book. During the first half she sounds annoyed with whole sections read with an audible *umpf* after each sentence.
Was Cuz worth the listening time?
Yes. Despite the issues in expression, this book is still worth listening to and reading for anyone and I am very glad Ms. Allen took the time to write it.