Buck: A Memoir

Buck: A Memoir

4.4 14
by M.K. Asante

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A coming-of-age story about navigating the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family, Buck shares the story of a generation through one original and riveting voice. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: his mother a dancer, his father a revered professor. But as a teenager, MK was alone on the streets of North…  See more details below


A coming-of-age story about navigating the wilds of urban America and the shrapnel of a self-destructing family, Buck shares the story of a generation through one original and riveting voice. MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: his mother a dancer, his father a revered professor. But as a teenager, MK was alone on the streets of North Philadelphia, swept up in a world of drugs, sex, and violence. MK’s memoir is an unforgettable tale of how one precocious, confused kid educated himself through gangs, rap, mystic cults, ghetto philosophy, and, eventually, books. It is an inspiring tribute to the power of literature to heal and redeem us.

Praise for Buck
“A story of surviving and thriving with passion, compassion, wit, and style.”—Maya Angelou 
“In America, we have a tradition of black writers whose autobiographies and memoirs come to define an era. . . . Buck may be this generation’s story.”—NPR

“The voice of a new generation. . . . You will love nearly everything about Buck.”Essence

“A virtuoso performance . . . [an] extraordinary page-turner of a memoir . . . written in a breathless, driving hip-hop prose style that gives it a tough, contemporary edge.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Frequently brilliant and always engaging . . . It takes great skill to render the wide variety of characters, male and female, young and old, that populate a memoir like Buck. Asante [is] at his best when he sets out into the city of Philadelphia itself. In fact, that city is the true star of this book. Philly’s skateboarders, its street-corner philosophers and its tattoo artists are all brought vividly to life here. . . . Asante’s memoir will find an eager readership, especially among young people searching in books for the kind of understanding and meaning that eludes them in their real-life relationships. . . . A powerful and captivating book.”—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times

“Remarkable . . . Asante’s prose is a fluid blend of vernacular swagger and tender poeticism. . . . [He] soaks up James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston and Walt Whitman like thirsty ground in a heavy rain. Buck grew from that, and it’s a bumper crop.”Salon
Buck is so honest it floats—even while it’s so down-to-earth that the reader feels like an ant peering up from the concrete. It’s a powerful book. . . . Asante is a hip-hop raconteur, a storyteller in the Homeric tradition, an American, a rhymer, a big-thinker singing a song of himself. You’ll want to listen.”The Buffalo News

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Asante is a veritable renaissance man whose genres range from creative nonfiction to poetry to film; his dozen awards include the Academy of American Poets' Jean Corrie Poetry Prize in 2002 to best director at the Arkansas Black Film Festival in 2012. All of which highly recommends this memoir.

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The Fall

The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of corn bread and blood. Change hangs in the air like the sneaks on the live wires behind my crib. Me and my big brother, Uzi, in the kitchen. He’s rolling a blunt on top of the Source, the one with Tyson on the cover rocking a kufi, ice-grilling through the gloss. Uzi can roll a blunt with his eyes closed.

Cracks, splits, busts.

“The rawest crews in Philly are all three letters,” he tells me. I read the cover through the tobacco guts and weed flakes: “The Rebirth of Mike Tyson: ‘I’m Not Good. I’m Not Bad. I’m Just Trying to Survive in this World.’ ”

Awaking crews in a rude fashion

On they ass like Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant 1

I do this--spit lyrics to songs under my breath--all day, every day. The bars just jump out of me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It’s like hip-hop Tourette’s.

Dumps, spreads, evens.

“JBM--Junior Black Mafia. Of course us, UPK--Uptown Killaz. PHD--Play Hero and Die.”

Tears, licks, wraps.

“HRM--Hit Run Mob. EAM--Erie Ave. Mobsters. ABC--Another Bad Creation.”

Folds, rolls, tucks. Another perfect blunt, jawn looks like a paintbrush.

Jawn can mean anything--person, place, or thing. Sometimes if we’re telling a story and don’t want people to know what we’re talking about, we’ll plug jawn in for everything. The other day I was at the jawn around the corner with the young jawn from down the street. We get to the jawn, right, and the ngh at the door is all on his jawn, not knowing I had that jawn on me. Man, it was about to be on in that jawn.

“Then you got all the songs: AFD--‘Ass for Days,’ CIA--‘Crack in America,’ FAG--‘Fake Ass Gangsta,’ HAA--‘Here’s Another Asshole,’ OPP--‘Other People’s Property,’ PWA--‘Pussy Weed Alcohol,’ and Philly’s own PSK--‘Park Side Killas.’ ”

“Schoolly D . . .” I hear Schoolly D’s voice in my head. “PSK, we makin that green . . . ,” I start.

“People always say, ‘What the hell does that mean?’ ” Uzi finishes.

“P is for the people who can’t understand how one homeboy became a man . . .” Both bopping to the subs in our domes. Boom, bap bap, boom-bap.

“S is for the way we scream and shout . . .”

“One by one . . .” He lands a soft hook on my cheek.

“I knock ’em out!” we both rap, laughing as he follows his punch through. I try to tap his chin but can’t reach.

“Your arms too short to box with God,” he says like Big Daddy Kane in “Mortal Combat,” Uzi’s anthem.

Uzi is the color of walnuts and has a long, sharp face like the African masks my dad hangs up everywhere. His name is Daahoud, my parents call him Daudi, and the hood calls him Uzi. He’s got a bunch of other names too, like some superhero: Oohwop, Daa-Ooh, Uzito, Wop da Culture, Cool D, Pinch P, Big Ooh, Barkalark, Droptimus Rhyme, Big Fly, and Stilt the Kilt.

A fast knock hits the window.

“Who dat?” Uzi says, running the flame across the blunt, drying it. I push the window open, cool air rushes in.

“Yo, what up, Malo?”

“It’s Ted!” I yell back to Uzi. “What up, Ted?” Ted is Uzi’s best friend. He’s like yay high, albino light, and bulldog stocky. He’s got a pug nose with freckles spread across it like crumbs. His nicknames are Ted Money, Reds the Ghost, Teddy Rux, and Thiefadore Burgalor.

“Where ya brother at?” Gold ropes dangle over his Tommy Hill hoodie, and the Beijing dye on his shape-up makes his hairline look airbrushed.

“Right here,” I say, leaning out the window. Uzi puts the blunt behind his ear. Pushes me aside.

“Ted Money, waddup?”

Ted checks both coasts like a lookout boy. “We got a car,” he says, hitchhiker thumb shooting backward. “A Johnny!”

“Who’s we?”

“Me, D-Rock, and you . . . if you down to roll?”

“Hell yeah,” Uzi says, no hesitation, then pivots toward the door. I follow him like his shadow.

And this is how it always goes: me following Uzi in everything, everywhere, like his little black Jansport, covered in Marks-A-Lot, strapped tight to his back--koala style. Anywhere, anyplace. He does it, I do it. He tries it, fuck it, I’m trying it. He can, shit, why can’t I? Sometimes I even duck like him under doorways, even though he’s way taller and I don’t need to duck. I guess I just do it because Uzi’s more than my big brother, he’s my idol. I don’t care that he’s taller, and older, and smarter. I wouldn’t even really know his age if old people weren’t always bringing that shit up, talking ’bout “you can’t do this, you can’t do that”--why?

“Because he’s sixteen and you’re twelve,” they say.

I follow him to sweaty Badlands house parties that always end in crazy, shirtless rumbles with everybody howling “Norf-side! Norf-side!” in the middle of the street. To Broad and Rockland to cop dime bags from one of the dusty bodegas with nothing but baking soda and expired Bisquick on the shelves. To freestyle cyphers on South Street that the nut-ass police always break up for no reason. To crack on jawns getting off the El at 69th Street, like, “Yo, shawty, let me holla at you for a minute.” To scale the fence to watch Sad Eye, the Jordan of street ball, hoop at 16th and Susquehanna. To skate the ledges and steps at Love Park until we get chased away by the cops. To bomb the Orange Line subway with Sharpies and Kiwi polish sticks.

And now, to joyride through Philly in a stolen wheel.

Being with Uzi makes me feel invincible, like nothing bad can happen to us, like nothing and nobody can hurt us. I feel unfuckwitable.

I can see us now, peeling off, sound system booming louder than bombs, rolling down 5th Street, turning heads as we catch the breeze. This is how freedom must taste.

“Chill,” Uzi tells me, pushing me back. “Not this time.” Turns his shoulder.

“I’m down, though,” I say, inching forward.

“I know,” he says. Grabs both my arms. “But not this time.” He lets go. Palms the doorknob.

Now I’m picturing the car spin, all of us laughing, half hanging out the window, tires screaming as we bust victory donuts.

“I’m coming!” I shout loud enough for Ted to hear.

“Ma-lo!” Uzi shoves me into the radiator. His eyes tell me to chill. “I’ll be back.” Shuts the door.

Through the window, I watch them sprint toward a blue Chevy Celebrity. Jailbreak joyful, their stride says they’ll never come back.

Ten minutes later--

Uzi and Ted explode back into the crib looking like they just saw a ghost. I’m still in the kitchen, still mad about not rolling.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” they gasp, jetting right by me.

“Get in your room, Malo!” Uzi yells. They bolt upstairs, doors slamming everywhere like a haunted house. Before I hit the stairs, I peek out the window--oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! There’s a light show in front of the crib. Reds, blues, and a gang of whites. The most cops I’ve ever seen.

I hit the stairs, three at a time. I’m almost at the top when an earthquake hits the house. I spin around to see the front door fly off like back draft. It lifts, then slams hard against the wood floor. Black boots trample it like a bridge. The whole house is heaving. The sound of everything crashing, breaking. A battering ram leads a tsunami of blue in. They flood the house. Clenched Glocks pointing every which way.

“Police! Get down! Down!” a flushed red face yells. My fingers freeze on the banister as the tide climbs the stairs.

“Down! Down!” I’m stuck. Can’t move. Guns glaring at me, steely-eyed. Pee shoots down my leg.

“Fuck-ing down!” Dripping. They pry me from the banister. Drag me down the steps like a rag doll. Clothes ripping. My head hits every step like a mallet over a xylophone. When I get to the bottom, everything sounds gargled like I’m underwater, drowning.

Officer Red Face is six inches from my grill. “Where is he?” he screams through tight lips. Grabs me. “Where is he?” Shakes me. “Where?” Shaking the fuck out of me. Everything’s getting pixelated.

Red Face lets go, charges up the steps.

My eyes clear, refocus. I make out Uzi kneeling at the top of the steps, elbows over face, nightsticks marching on his head, hands, ribs, neck, back, everywhere. I feel every blow like they’re beating me too. I sprint up the stairs again, but they swallow me, holding me down, twisting my arms like a pretzel.

I hear my favorite voice--“Get the fuck off my little brother”--before I black out.


By the Time I Get to Arizona

Uzi tells me they tried to throw the book at him.

“You’re lucky you’re still a minor,” my pops tells him. “If you were eighteen, you’d be in the penitentiary.” He fills the doorway to Uzi’s room like a prison guard. I’m sitting on the bed, long-faced, watching Uzi pack for a one-way trip to Arizona.

My dad’s Afro is thick and flat at the back like how Muhammad Ali’s jawn was back in the day. He’s wearing a black and gold dashiki. He’s got a dashiki for every day of the year.

“I’m African,” he told Uzi and Ted the other day on the porch. Ted calls Pops “Dr. Africa.” “That’s why I wear African clothes.”

“But you’re from Georgia,” Uzi said.

“Being born in Georgia doesn’t make me an American any more than being born in an oven makes a cat a biscuit.”


“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘No matter how long a log sits in a river, it will never become a crocodile.’ That means that even in a foreign habitat, a snail never loses its shell. Even in America, I’m still African.”

“Here he goes.” Uzi shook his head. “Always in his Afrocentric bag.”

The newspapers call our father “the father of Afrocentricity” because he created it.

My third eye is my rail, on this L of thought

With Afrocentric stamps I’m mailin thoughts 2

Pops is always preaching Afrocentricity. He was a Church of Christ minister way back when, one of those child preachers, and he still sounds like he’s in the pulpit when he talks about black people, white people, and the struggle. I remember this debate he took me to at East Stroudsburg University a few years back: him vs. Cornel West vs. Arthur Schlesinger. It was packed, standing room only. I remember how West, this cool black dude with a big Afro and a tight three-piece suit, talked with his hands flying fast like he was conducting an orchestra. And how Schlesinger, this old white guy with hair the color of milk and a red bow tie, sounded like a statue. I remember the cheers, the boos, the ad-libs. Most of all, though, I remember how dope my pops was: his passion, energy, confidence, intelligence. Half the time I didn’t even know what he was talking about--hegemony . . . pedagogy . . . subverting the dominant paradigm--but I was proud.

Back then I didn’t get it, but now I think I do. Afrocentricity basically means that black people should view the world through our own black eyes. It’s like the poster my dad has framed in the hallway that says, “A people without knowledge of their past is like a tree with no roots.”

Hit the Earth like a comet, invasion.

Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazin 3

Our crib is mad Afrocentric: naked African statues standing everywhere, ritual masks ice-grilling down from the walls, portraits of Martin, Malcolm, Harriet. From the wallpaper to the plates, everything is stamped with Africa.

Even my favorite porn series, My Baby Got Back, is made by a company called Afro-Centrix Productions. “Beauties that give up the booty,” the box under my bed says. Mr. Marcus, Lexington Steele, and loudmouthed Wesley Pipes nailing Nubian queens like Janet Jacme, Obsession, Midori, Monique, and Lacey Duvalle in doggy style, reverse cowgirl, and missionary.

I tell Pops about the other Afro-Centrix and he’s disgusted. Say what? But he’s the one who’s always talking about how black people should have their own stores, own banks, own schools--shouldn’t we have our own porn studios too? What’s more Afrocentric than black pussy?

Uzi doesn’t really get down with Afrocentricity. I think he’s still mad about the whole Star Wars thing from when we were little. Uzi used to love Star Wars and he kept begging my parents for a Luke Skywalker action figure. Finally my dad took him to Toys R Us. They came back--Uzi was heated.

“He got me Lando Calrissian!” Uzi said.


“Exactly! Nobody knows who he is. Lando Calrissian!”

“Who that?”

“Fucking Billy Dee Williams! The corny black dude. He has no gun, no weapon, no special powers, and he talks like he’s in a goddamn Colt 45 commercial, like”--he lowered his voice--“ ‘the power of Colt 45 . . . works every time.’ ”

“They didn’t have Luke?”

“They had everybody--Luke, Obi-Wan, Han Solo--but Dad wouldn’t get them because they’re white.”

So now Uzi’s in his closet deciding what to take with him to Arizona.

“Make sure you leave this room better than you found it,” my dad says, scoping the mess.

“Whateva,” Uzi sighs, and tosses a shirt into his duffle.

“What’d you say?” My dad moves closer. I see his face clenching, like he wants to slap the shit out of Uzi. He won’t, though, because Uzi’s his stepson. Now if it were me, I’d be ducking haymakers. Uzi steps out of the closet. They’re a swing away from each other. My brother, at 6'6", Michael Jordan’s height, towers over my pops, who might be 5'7"--Spud Webb. Pops ain’t no slouch, though. He’s southern stocky, used to chase chickens and wrestle swamp thangs and chop firewood back in the day.

“What”--Uzi tilts his head like one side weighs more--“eva.”

Pops swallows hard. They eye each other down like the cowboys in the black-and-white Westerns my uncle John loves watching--toothpicks plugged into stone faces, beat-up brims, ashy steel toes.

I love a good fight, but I don’t want to see this. One day when Uzi was real mad at my dad, he told me if it ever came down to it, he’d fight my pops like “a ngh on the street.” I don’t want to see that, and I know deep down Uzi doesn’t want that either, but he’s a cannon. He’s got a Rasheed Wallace temper, so hot you can fry bacon on it.

“Finish packing. Be downstairs ready to go in thirty. You’re not welcome in this house anymore.”

1 “Wreck Your Ears (Can Do),” The B.U.M.S. (Brothas Under Madness), 1995.

2 “All Night Long,” Common, 1996.

3 “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” Nas, 1996.

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Buck: A Memoir 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
AuntMay More than 1 year ago
Buck: a Memoir is a riveting book. It tells the story of a young immigrant from Zimbabwe (born to American parents) who fights for survival as a teenager in America. His teachers are unconventional to say the least - strippers, rappers, ghetto philosophers, and outright outlaws. It is an amazing journey and well written.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
"The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of cornbread and blood. Change hangs in the air like the sneaks on the live wires behind my crib." I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Every American teenager goes through a period of rebellion as s/he tries to figure out who s/he is, apart from the parents. But for no other group in America is this transition as dangerous as for young black men. Malo's older brother is in jail. His father is always traveling; his mother, depressed. His schools: some give him a pass and don't require him to do much of anything, long as he keeps playing basketball. Others are more like a holding pen, the teachers flat out telling the students "I'm just here for the paycheck." It's amazing that any of them make it out of there alive, and sadly, too many don't. Malo loses his best friend, Amir, and afterward, the funeral director takes him and his friends in the back room. "He shows us the coffins and tells us, 'The little ones, for teenagers like y’all, are my best sellers and business is booming! Booming!'" The best memoirs let you crawl inside the skin of someone who's not like you, and MAKE you feel it, as if it is your own life. I was not only feeling for and with Malo, I was actually nodding to the raw beauty and poetry of hip-hop lyrics, the way they perfectly fit the narrative of the story. I also got a glimpse inside his mother's head, through her journal entries, which Malo reads/shares here. She is battling her depression so hard; like a lot of people, the drugs sometimes help and sometimes turn her into a zombie, but she keep fighting for her younger son until finally, she finds a school that "gets" him. They make him write, and in writing, he finds his own voice. "Holding the pen this way, snug and firm in my fist, makes me feel like I can write my future, spell out my destiny in sharp strokes." I couldn't help thinking of "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," yet we do waste so many minds, so many bright young men and women of all colors and ethnicities COULD give back so much. If only we tried a little harder, found the key to reaching them, instead of warehousing them in school until they are 18, then warehousing them in jail ever after. There are many definitions of the word "buck;" it's a term for a person, for money, for an act of rebellion, or of sex, and in the end, M.K. Asante claims it for his own. "Became a doer, dream pursuer, purpose-driven Past meets the future In between no longer and not yet Rise up, young buck, never forget" This book is going to stay with me for a long time.
DianeCascade More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing story of survival in the urban jungle. The writing is compelling and really draws the reader in. I loved this book and couldn't put it down. Five stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drugs, crime, broken families, and violence is nothing new to this Philly girl but it may be new to some. This is a story of a brilliant writer who almost lost his battle to grow up. Through diary entries written by his mother and chapters told in the voice of his 15 year old self this is a book that holds you captive. Even though I know this book is written by the voice in the story I still found myself holding my breath in places hoping that things would work out. This is the story of so many young urban people. Parents either absent or on drugs, schools that are more like prisons, where teachers have given up hope, and the streets become the schools. The murders, the friends who die too young, the helpless feeling and the lure of drugs and money. This story is written in a way that is accessible. That will speak to so many, or at least be familiar. While we are living in a slightly different time the troubles are still relatively the same. MK has shared his pain and written a book that could be any inner city kids story, except this one doesn't end in a coffin, it ends with a career, a way out through education.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful read every page houses a world of adventure. Buck will send its reader thru a roller coaster of emotions. Asante has a gift for making his story relatable to any audience. The tone of the memoir is hip yet sophisticated and all together captivating. I wish it was twice as long so i could keep reading!! 5 stars aren't enough. Thank you Mr. Asante for sharing your story with us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book. I read it in one day. The writing was exceptional and a unique style. I would highly recommend.
amirahrashidah More than 1 year ago
An extremely moving and honestly real story that shows a young man making mistakes and eventually moving from those negative situations. I couldn't put the book down once I opened it. This is definitely good for inner-city kids to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book I've read in years! MK Asante is a fantastic writer. His story is touching, deeply personal, and exceptionally well told. A must read. The thing about this book is ... it's completely impossible to put down once you start. It held me captive for an entire afternoon until I finish it in one sitting. LOVE love love this book, this story, and how it hits home.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book moved me from the start. This is a voice that needs to be heard, that we can all learn from, that will change how you move through the world. Let MK Asante bring you into his world, and allow your heart to open to his wisdom and wit. The most moving passages are woven right into the narrative - they slap you upside your brain but linger in your heart for days to come. This book represents a beautiful opportunity to hear a strong, wise yet vulnerable teenage boy tell you about the world - you'll be changed for the better by it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"BUCK," is a very pure and momentous chapter in Ma-lo's (Dr. MK Asante) life. The language is phrasing that captures your psyche on the first page and makes you want to know everything in the pages that follow. The author takes you to emotional spaces that can be unnerving and awkward, but rightfully so because the words are about his life. As a reader you will connect with Ma-lo and live side by side with him until the last word on the last page of the book. You won't be able to put the book down once you start reading. "BUCK," placed me within Ma-lo's soul and introduced me to a culture my younger brother hinted at, but never told me about. Ma-lo learned street etiquette, adhered to street codes, but never transformed outwardly or inwardly into a person the streets demands a young black male to be. He watched the street hustle; studied the human conditions in his life, saw truth, but didn't judge; acknowledged his true emotions; loved unconditionally and released it all in melodic poems set to rap rhythms. The flow and words of the story will never lead you to escapism, but raw gritty realism that places you within Ma-lo's rite of passage. The resolution of this well-expressed chapter is what we all search for within ourselves daily, purpose. I highly recommend "BUCK," and dare you to emotionally immerse yourself into a world that is as American as apple pie, baseball and hot dogs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book hits hard in many ways. 1) In terms of writing chops, Asante is unparalleled. But I knew this after reading Bigger Than Hip Hop. Lyrical, rhythmic, and often hilarious. ("He's the shape of a sack of laundry--a stuttering hamper coming right at me," he says of his hapless, obnoxious school principle) 2) Somehow, Asante manages to give this book a soundtrack. Sprinkling song lyrics from Billie Holiday to Public Enemy throughout the narrative, the effect is something like a movie, as the italicized couplets boil the details of Asante's story down to the succinct universal truths so often found in music. 3) This is a story of Asante's coming-of-age, coming-of-rage, coming-full-force-to-the-page, but it is equally the story of his mother, who's own jaw-dropping lyrical beauty is featured steadily throughout via her diary entries from years ago. As she suffers through debilitating depression in her living room, she is the figuratively and literally the center around which all of the despair and tragedy of Asante's life takes place. Her journals tie together with Asante's memoir in a way that suggests a conversation between mother and son that--as events unfolded in real time--seems to have never taken place. The fact that it does now is what makes the effect so great. I could go on, but...just read it, it's a must.
missbeverlyann More than 1 year ago
You really need to know the "hood speak" in order to fully understand. I had to look up quite a few words, like whip = car. Story line sketchy and hard to follow. No real closure on many of the characters in the book. Last few chapters done in rap. Disappointing read to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
  You would do well to call this a “fictionalized” memoir.  When did you actually live in North Philadelphia. Where were the sneakers hanging on wires in the back of your house on Medary Ave in East Oak Lane?      List every school you attended and the dates you were kicked out, can you share your school records?  Your older cousin was born in l974 and you were born in l981, true? If not, correct us with your birth certificates. While you are gathering documentation, how about a record of the institution you claim your sister was in? Three hours for throwing eggs out of a car in the 35th District qualifies as a record?  Really?     What is the intention behind this fictionalized story?