Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A look at ‘The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates’ by Wes Moore

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What defines who we are? Our names? In the course of his novel, author Wes Moore takes us on a journey, unearthing layers upon layers, answer after answer to this complicated question. “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” is a parallel narrative of two young boys sharing a name, whose paths originate from the same crime-riddled neighborhood in Baltimore, but diverge drastically over the course of their lives. One is the author of this book; the other is serving a life sentence, surrounded by walls he will escape only at death. Moore’s writing is poignant. He gives an honest, undisguised glimpse into the lives of ghetto youth while reflecting on his own experiences of growing up as a fatherless boy in a destitute household.

Like most readers, my first instinct while reading this book was to discern the exact moment, or “point of no return,” that landed the other Wes in a world of crime. In the afterward, the author discourages this very approach. In fact, he himself admits that it is impossible to pinpoint a particular instance, decision or opportunity that answers this question. My thoughts flit back to a saying of my mother’s: “A child is like wet clay: shape it while it’s soft; once it dries up, all you can do is inflict cracks.” It’s our environment, and more importantly, the people in it that significantly form our identity. No wonder the author dedicates his novel to “the woman who helped my journey to manhood.”

An unavoidable outcome of this novel is that it makes you reflect: what conditions and decisions got you to where you are today?

One disadvantage of working in a government job in India (like my mother did), is that you can be transferred from one state to another at the government’s discretion. Naturally, this was a potential situation most employees dreaded. However, the year I turned three, my mother did something quite extraordinary: she filed for a voluntary transfer; requesting to be uprooted from our current home in a small-town adjoining Delhi, a town I now recognize for its high crime rate and poor school system.

That was the beginning of our new lives in New Delhi, the capital city. It was years later that my mother first recounted this story to me. “You do realize that you could have landed up anywhere in the country, right? What were you thinking taking a risk like that?” I asked her, perplexed. “I wasn’t thinking”, she replied. “I just knew I needed to get my kids out of there.” As she spoke, I sensed this urgency in her eyes; except I couldn’t quite place it back then. In the opening chapter of the novel, we see Wes’s mother Mary make a pact with herself that she would “get her education and leave the neighborhood no matter what.” It was this fire in Mary, this hunger to escape the web of violence and drugs that enveloped the streets of Baltimore, that took me back to the conversation with my mother. I now better understand the urgency emanating from her eyes.

There were moments nearing the end of this book, where I questioned the very purpose of its existence. Why is the story of the two Wes Moores so important? What role does it play in our lives today? All these inquiries were put to rest in the concluding chapters. Here, Moore sheds light on the struggles of his youth and stresses the responsibilities that we, as a community, bear in raising children better. One incident in particular stood out to me.. When the dean of the author’s school told him he would go nowhere in life, I was amazed by the author’s response: “how easily they [adults] could write-off a twelve-year-old.” That 12-year-old today is a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran and successful business leader.

“The Other Wes Moore” is not just a “rags to riches” story to take inspiration from. It’s an eye-opener, a call to action and a reminder to create our own opportunities. I conclude with the words of Jean Paul Sartre: “Nous sommes nos choix:” we are our choices.

Bhavya Pant can be reached at [email protected].

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