Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.
With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.
Author: Simba Sana
Publisher: Agate Publishing
Simba Sana was born Bernard Sutton in Washington, D.C. in 1968. His mother earned a bachelor's degree and a high school teacher's certificate in North Carolina. She began a relationship with a Herman Sutton, married him and divorced him when he moved from North Carolina to Michigan. She moved to Washington and at age 35 became pregnant. She stopped working and Sana knew her only as a single mother who would tell him nothing about his father. As an adult he tracked down Sutton, but apparently Sutton had separated from Sana's mother long before her pregnancy.
The first half of Never Stop is an account of growing up as a black child in the District's black neighborhoods. He and his mother were evicted from their apartment at one point and spent time in a homeless shelter. Sana hung out with the neighborhood kids and, as he got older, tried to avoid the turf of rival gangs. He says he managed to avoid much of the drugs and violence. Because he was so shy he managed to lose his virginity relatively late compared to the experiences his buddies claimed. He hung out at a local gym, learned to box, and as an adult he was much involved with world of boxing.
His mother converted to Roman Catholicism so that the Archdiocese of Washington would cover Sana's expenses at a private Catholic school. While he spent a lot of time on the streets and hustling to find work for pocket money and, later, to help his mother, his grades were good enough he was admitted to Mount Saint Mary's University in Pennsylvania. On graduation he took a job with Ernst & Young, the giant public accounting firm, although he'd become involved with the African Development Organization (ADO), a black nationalist/pan-African group.
As a young child living in a black neighborhood, Sana was barely conscious of color. Before he left for college, however, "several older black people gave me unsolicited advice about dealing with racism on campus." It wasn't the overt or blatant racism but the "emotional and psychological impact of racism . . . Implicit in their words was the idea that I needed something white folks had . . . I didn't adopt this view . . . I felt the streets of DC had been the toughest thing I'd faced, and that nothing white folks could ever throw at me would match up."
The second half of Never Stop is Sana's life as an adult: his career as an entrepreneur, his love life, his marriage, his involvement with boxing, and what happened when everything went smash.
Sana and an acquaintance from ADO began selling black-themed books from a card table. They expanded to a kiosk in a mall in Prince George's County, Maryland, and became Karibu Books. Sales were strong enough they rented as shop in the mall. The business continued to grow helped by Sana's tendency to be a workaholic. Eventually Karibu had four stores, almost 50 full- and part-time employees, and was planning a major expansion. It was perhaps the most successful black-owned bookseller in the country.
When the 2006 recession hit, however, it hit Karibu violently. Sales fell. Relations between Sana and his partner deteriorated. There was a question whether Sana would buy out his partner or vice versa. As a throwaway comment, Sana notes that in the year before the company's first-ever board meeting in 2007, he had loaned the company $400,000 of his own money (!) to keep it afloat. Adding to his stress, he was enmeshed in a bitter custody fight with his ex-wife over the custody of their two children. Some 25 pages from the end of Never Stop he writes, "By 2009, my business and all of my money were gone . . . All the real estate I owned . ..was facing foreclosure. Worst of all I wasn't seeing [my two children] Zendaya and Talib."
Never Stop is well-written (Sana had gone on and obtained a M.A. from Howard University in African Studies), but the second half suffers as Sana tries to explain—and justify—actions and decisions that even sympathetic readers will seem irresponsible. I think it's a problem with memoir in general: How to write about a failing business or a deteriorating marriage, say, without seeming like a patsy or a bully. Sana does not cut himself a lot of slack, particularly when he writes about a time when he had an uncontrollable need for sex and what he did to get it. But unfortunately it's possible to read the passage two ways: Ain't I a stud to have such a passionate sex drive? Or: Ain't I pathetic to be so overwhelmed by my need for sex?
While reviewers should never complain about the book the author didn't write, my own feeling is that Sana actually offers three memoirs in Never Stop, any one of which (or all three) could be strong and engaging: His life growing up in Washington; his involvement as a child and an adult in boxing; his experience as an entrepreneur with Karibu Books. Each of these filled out are interesting stories. Nevertheless, Never Stop did hold my interest and will give readers insights into a world(s) they know little about.