Book Review: Chaka! Through the Fire
Book Reviewed by Linda Watkins
The memoirs of high profile people command attention. The chance to get the dirt, learn the weaknesses and shortcomings of the famous and celebrated is exciting. One's greatest hope of reading such works is that the secret lives of these shining stars holds some downright scandalous imperfections that will make the star seem more like us real folks.
So, it was no surprise when funk-diva, Chaka Khan finally put it all down on paper with Tonya Bolden and produced, Chaka Khan, Through the Fire that I rushed to receive my portion of juicy gossip from between the fiery red glittering covers. Only problem was once I got there, I was truly disappointed.
Chaka! Through the Fire has the rhythm of a structured interview, although it is not written in such a format. This made the first sixty pages extremely boring, giving me the blahs and leaving me slightly perturbed. I can almost pinpoint where the interviewer would make a drab inquiry and Chaka would serve up an appropriate response, offering sketchy glimpses of her life. This artificial feeling caused the book to come across as flat and practiced. I sensed that Chaka was not fully giving up the real-deal and was holding back on some of the goodies.
With the parts of her life that she did decide to share Chaka was at least honest. She didn't hide her addiction, her struggle with being a working mom, her temper tantrums or her overspending. However, she never went beyond the surface of addressing these issues. There was a lack of depth in many spots throughout her story, which watered down the impact the reader received.
Now, none of this negativity stopped me from furthering my fact-finding mission into the life of this incredible woman. I'm way too noisy for that. So I dug down beneath the fluff of artists' names and failed relationships, to find many tidbits of interest in Chaka! Through the Fire. It undeniably showcases the grit and determination of Yvette Marie Stevens (Chaka's real name) and the many obstacles she endured in her rise to fame. For instance, readers will be quite surprised to find out she had once belonged to the Black Panthers, her thoughts on the Vietnam War, and the fact that she had attended Catholic school, (even though Chaka cusses like a sailor). What captivated me the most was how Chaka was so in tune with the spirit and politics of the 60's and 70's, her undying commitment to her race, her music and her love of family.
Chaka! Through the Fire, is not the most compelling or perfectly written memoir on the market. But, it is explosive, honest and full of self-discovery. This is due in part to Chaka's determination and her ongoing struggle to continue to shine regardless of her past mistakes. So while I had hoped for her to, Tell Me Something Good, I received something better. She told me the truth. No frills, nothing scandalous, just the truth…in her own inimitable diva-like way.