Barack Obama at his rawest
Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States is a magnificent orator. It´s not debatable. Rather a bipartisan agreement. But what is lesser known is that he's an exquisite writer also. Identity, race, and community are major themes in Dreams From My Father. Many poignant parts come in the book. His grandmother saying that she only knew this life. Polygamy. Some books. I shelved this book over and over again for years. Only able to get through few pages. Now, that I´m the age that he was in the book, it has a newfound relevancy. When he tells four young men in a car to keep it down.
Going from Hawaii to Indonesia to Chicago. Three places which couldn´t be more diametrically different. It shines a light on the real Barack Obama. Not just the man who´s captivated the American public for seventeen years.
Barack Obama as a Young Man
Barack Obama was trying to find his identity. As a Biracial Black man in America. Then, affectionately known as Barry. Creative, studious, judicious and downright ambitious. Very introspective. Always pondering the proclivities of society and the condition of humanity. Too much for his own good. At one point, I even thought to myself, "why does this man think so much?"
Sometimes, it opens the window for gems of wisdom to be dropped. For example, On page 159 when he asked his Granny why women put up with arranged marriages. Said arranged marriages which oftentimes ended up being abusive, and oppressive. I could almost picture in my head a gray-haired Kenyan woman sitting in a rocking chair dropping this wisdom (in Luo at that).
“Our women have carried a heavy load. If oneBarack Obama's Granny
is a fish, one does not try to fly-one swims with other fish. One only knows what one knows. Perhaps if I were young today, I would not have accepted these things. Perhaps I would only care about my feelings, and falling in love. But that’s not the world I was raised in. I only know what I have seen. What I have not seen doesn’t make my heart heavy."
Obama's Style & Readability
The book reads like a conversation between two old friends. In the preface, he even states expressly that he doesn't know how to classify the book in terms of genre. He also states that he did his best to recreate the conversations verbatim. Describing the Chicago kids' hopelessness and unhappy lives. I can picture the characters in my head. The three middle-aged aunties he worked with as a community organizer in Chicago; Angela, Shirley, and Mona. His biological aunties in Kenya Aunt Zeituni, Aunt Jane, and Aunt Sarah. His army of half-siblings. I felt like I've met these people before. Their personalities and peculiarities.
This speaks volumes to the universality of Barack Obama's story. As the subtitle reads; it's a story of race and inheritance. It takes a vulnerability to lay one's life bare. To lay it bare for public consumption and not try to edit the truth as it happened to your benefit. He actually referred to doing so as tempting in the preface of the book.
Highlights from the book
Truly, the Kenya chapters where he goes to meet his family were written so vividly and tactfully. The oral tradition in Africa shines through. The oral tradition of stories being passed down generation to generation. A polarizing family debate about. Barack Obama Sr.'s inheritance. Even going as far as to question the legitimacy of some of his siblings. Rightfully so, in some scenarios. I learned a lot about Obama. For example, his grandfather was a farmer. Well-studied younger sister Auma speaks like four languages. His grandma lamenting that it pains her to not be able to speak to her son's son. The Language barrier Luo.
No doubt, it was also a joyous shock to see Barack Obama use language like "house n*****", "Uncle Tom" etc. In this moment, he was thinking of his grandfather. The words grazed his mind accidentally. Obviously, politicians are people too, but in a weird way, it really humanized him. Now I'm rereading The Audacity of Hope. So, ten plus years later with a deeper more mature insight and increased relatability, I'm stoked.