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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance Paperback – August 10, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama was offered a book contract, but the intellectual journey he planned to recount became instead this poignant, probing memoir of an unusual life. Born in 1961 to a white American woman and a black Kenyan student, Obama was reared in Hawaii by his mother and her parents, his father having left for further study and a return home to Africa. So Obama's not-unhappy youth is nevertheless a lonely voyage to racial identity, tensions in school, struggling with black literature?with one month-long visit when he was 10 from his commanding father. After college, Obama became a community organizer in Chicago. He slowly found place and purpose among folks of similar hue but different memory, winning enough small victories to commit himself to the work?he's now a civil rights lawyer there. Before going to law school, he finally visited Kenya; with his father dead, he still confronted obligation and loss, and found wellsprings of love and attachment. Obama leaves some lingering questions?his mother is virtually absent?but still has written a resonant book. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Provocative . . . Persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Fluidly, calmly, insightfully, Obama guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Beautifully crafted . . . moving and candid . . . this book belongs on the shelf beside works like James McBride’s The Color of Water and Gregory Howard Williams’s Life on the Color Line as a tale of living astride America’s racial categories.” —Scott Turow
“Obama’s writing is incisive yet forgiving. This is a book worth savoring.”
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
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to this. The Audacity of Hope was written when he was already a Senator and about to run for President, and by then
his political skills had developed considerably. I expect that his next memoir will be extremely well written and polished.
But Dreams From My Father is the book that most explains who Obama is. His strengths and weaknesses, which make
him so admired by many and feared by his opponents, come out strongly. Opponents of Obama will find reasons to empathize
with his experience and that of his family, but also will see how that experience shaped his worldview that was imposed on
the American people. This book should also show why many people voted for him in the first place, not only because
he is an eloquent speaker and skilled writer, but because he has a compelling personal story.
Besides the trip to Kenya to search for his family roots, there is an extended reflection on his experience in Chicago as a
community organizer. I think this reveals a lot about Obama's qualities as well. There is a true desire to help and improve,
an intellectual talent, and yet there's always a geographical displacement and emotional detachment, an outsider's perspective
looking in, that somehow distances him even as he tries to immerse in the milieu. (Contrast Bill Clinton's I feel your pain). He is
sensitive, perhaps too sensitive and questioning, and yet somehow not empathetic enough for the opposing point of view (e.g.
pro life). The end of the book has a reflection from a few years later on being a law student, on justifying the justice system for the
powerless, making clear that he was not only liberal but radical. This shows how in his later political career, even when he tried
to transcend partisanship and made a lot of intellectual deliberation, he almost always arrived at conclusions on the left end of
the spectrum, because he was coming from the far left end. For instance, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, from whom he later had to
distance himself, is just a regular normal character in the narrative but was in fact a radical liberationist in his theology.
To me the book resembles, in some respects, even the gentle but dark humor, Dennis Kucinich's Courage to Survive, where
he did in Cleveland what Obama did in Chicago. I can see why Kucinich eventually endorsed Obama even though by 2008 he
had smoothed out his radicalism.
Despite the conflict between Western liberalism and traditional African values, Obama is very much a feminist and the Western position
won out despite his sympathy for Africa. And yet one of the more compelling passages of the book for me, not politically but personally,
is at the end where he reflects on how even in a family where the women have held together, the men have often been plagued by
doubts about their race and their masculinity and the cruelty that being male can bring with it. Regardless of politics, that is something
that the Obama family seems to have modeled well and overcome in the next generation, with his daughters although he didn't have boys.
As an African American man who has gained some momentum in being authentically me, I appreciate how much of him is also an amalgamation of those closest to him. Thank you Barack for sitting down and taking the time to share your journey with me, it was a worthy venture to explore this chapter in your life. However, as it should be, I'm left wanting more.