1995, 2004, 442 p.
I was so downcast and discouraged by Trump’s inauguration that I decided to finally take Barak Obama’s memoir off the bookshelf where it has been languishing for years, and read it to expunge the current Presidential oafishness from my mind. I knew that it had been top of the New York Times bestseller list for months and months, but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised by the easy tone and Obama’s self-deprecating yearning to find answers to his questions over identity and masculinity.
This book was written in 1995, before he took political office of any kind. Born in Hawaii, his Kenyan father had returned to his homeland while Barak was only two years old. His white American single mother remarried, and the family shifted to Indonesia, although Barak returned to the care of his grandparents in Hawaii when he was ten. It was at the age of ten, too, that he met with his father for a short, awkward time, and never met him again. His father died in a car crash when Barak was twenty-one years old. He was brought up on the myths of his father, told to him by his mother and grandparents, and much of this book deals with his disillusionment at how the rest of his father’s life unfolded, and his own search for identity as a mixed-race child, fitting neither into white or African-American society.
The book is divided into three parts: ‘Origins’, dealing with his childhood in Hawaii, Jakarta and New York; ‘Chicago’ set in Chicago (naturally) as he works as a community organizer in the African-American community, and ‘Kenya’ where he returns to meet his Kenyan family. Having visited Kenya, I loved this last part- especially his description of the Mara which captured just how I felt about it! His potted history of Kenyan colonialism, from the point of view of his Luo family, is masterful.
This is a beautifully written book, whether the author became President of the United States or not and, written in 1995, there is no consciousness at all that this could even possibly be his destiny. As a work of memoir, he has invented conversations and combined or renamed characters, but the book rings true to its very core. I can’t imagine that there could be a greater contrast than that between ‘Dreams from My Father’ and ‘The Art of the Deal’, the memoir of the current presidential incumbent.
And look at this- a video from 1995, just after the book had been published. Oh, I miss that easy eloquence and gentle humour already.