4 out of 4 stars
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The Life and Times of a Black Prince in America is the autobiographical account of an African-American man raised in a fanatical religion. The religious order, Helion Temple of Ancient Divine Wisdom-Order of Melchisedec, was structured much like an ancient royal court, complete with Queen, Princes, Princesses, servants, overseers, and jesters, in addition to several other ranks and positions. Robin R. Rabii reveals his experiences in the cult-like Order, offering an in-depth look into its teachings and violent practices.
Rabii, who received the title of Prince in the Order, underscores the peculiar dichotomy of a loving and nurturing home life and the brutal zealotry of his religion. While many members suffered emotional and physical cruelty at the hands of the Queen and her henchwomen (and men), the brunt of the savagery was inflicted upon the youth. Ritualistic public beatings were a typical form of punishment, and the condemned were forced to endure their abuse naked, adding an extra dimension of control and torment. Rabii recalls with traumatic clarity the sickening sounds of children wailing as their flesh was broken against whips, belts, and other weapons. The fanaticism of the members resulted in a myriad of torture at home for many children, as they were starved (forced fasting), and routinely beaten. Ostracism, excommunication and mental terrorization were favorites of the Queen’s posse, who were diabolical in their methods of domination.
Rabii describes the confusion he felt trying to reconcile the religion his loving parents were so passionate about with the horrors he knew in his heart weren’t right. He also took issue with many of the fundamental doctrines of the Order, expressing his profound skepticism, even as a young boy. He explains in great detail the kindheartedness of his parents, sharing personal anecdotes and his fondest family photos. Rabii did ultimately leave the Order and it is obvious he felt a certain moral obligation to unearth the dastardly occurrences of a religion that is still in practice. In his preparation for the book, Rabii collected testimonials from many members that had been terrorized, including sexual assault victims, and others with lasting mental and physical scars.
This book was nothing like I expected. Rabii has crafted a book in exemplary fashion, using a perfect marriage of rational and emotional narration, sprinkled with a healthy dose of comic relief. He writes with compassion and wisdom, implementing a tone that is both eloquent and simple. I found myself immersed in a story that evoked a plethora of emotions, especially ones of unrelenting disgust, incredulity, and sadness for the children that would most likely never truly recover from their experiences.
There isn’t much I can think to offer as areas for improvement, save a couple minor critiques. Firstly, I felt that Rabii repeated his points excessively. His contempt for the conduct of the Order and his acknowledgement of his loving family were reiterated countless times, in slightly different wording. I don't feel this is a negative, per se, just somewhat extraneous. Secondly, there are multiple instances where words are underlined as a means of emphasis. It is my opinion a more-polished method would be the use of italics.
As this book is based on a fanatical religion, and describes the religion’s history and teachings in detail, I would only recommend it to someone open to such a premise. Additionally, Rabii draws his own conclusions about God, Jesus, and various other religions, and periodically incorporates these thoughts into the text. I found this book to be well-written and Rabii to be extremely likeable as the narrator. With the exception of a few missing hyphenations, the book was superbly edited and has earned a rating of 4 out of 4 stars.
The Life and Times of a Black Prince in America (book one)
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