President Barack Obama’s Dreams From His Father
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Author: Barack Obama
Publisher: Three Rivers Press, 2004
Reviewed by Maryanne Raphael (05/2009)
Link at Amazon.com
In Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote of his efforts to understand his family, the leaps through time and the collision of cultures hoping to shine light on the question of identity and race in the America experience.
He described the “underlying struggle between worlds of plenty and worlds of want, between modern and ancient cultures.” He admired those “who embrace our teeming, colliding irksome diversity while insisting on values that bind us together”. And he feared “those who seek, under whatever flag or slogan or sacred text, to justify cruelty towards those not like us.”
The book shows how powerlessness twists children’s lives in Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way it does on Chicago’s south side and how quickly despair slips into violence. It discusses how the powerful respond with a dull complacency until violence threatens them and they then use force, (longer prison sentences and more sophisticated hardware) inadequate to the task.
He struggles constantly to understand this problem and his place in it. He is now professionally engaged in a broader public debate that will shape our lives and the lives of our children for many years to come.
If he had known his mother was dying so young, he would have written a different book, less a meditation of the absent parent and more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in his life. He shares some of the stories his mother and her parents told him when he was a child. ”Obama feels we have all seen too much to take his parents’ brief union, a black man and a white woman an African and an American at face value. He says when black or white people who don’t know him well, discover his background they no longer know who he is.
This is the record of a personal interior journey, a boy’s search for his father and a workable meaning for his life as a black American.
Obama says, “I can embrace my black brothers and sisters whether in this country or in Africa and affirm a common destiny without pretending to speak for all our various struggles.”
Much of this book is based on journals of oral histories of his family. Obama says he tried to write an honest account of a particular province of his life.’
Without the love and support of his family, his mother, his grandparents and his siblings, stretched across oceans and continents he could never have finished it.
He was born in Hawaii, lived several years in Indonesia then lived in New York City where he went to Columbia University. In1983, he was a Chicago community organizer and a civil rights lawyer.
His Aunt Jane, whom he had never met, called him from Kenya to say his father was killed in an auto accident. His parents had divorced when he was two years old and he had only seen his father for one month when he came to visit Obama and his mother in Hawaii.
When he went to Kenya his half sister Auma and his Auntie Zeitumi met him.
They took him to meet Aunt Jane and other African family members. Family seemed to be everywhere in Kenya and Obama found himself meditating on just what is a family He sat on his father’s grave and spoke with him through Africa ’s red soil.
When he returned to America he met Michelle, who had been raised in Chicago. After their engagement he took her to Kenya to meet his family there they returned to the United States and married.
This is an absorbing and moving tale of a man who takes a journey to his father ‘s home, where he lived much of his life and died. Obama re-evaluates his relationship with the myth of his father and the meaning of his own life. It is a quiet but intense examination of a man’s past and his son’s attempt to understand it.
Examining his family’s life and thinking about his own, Obama finds a certain relief reliving times and behavior that had slipped into the undifferentiated past and finally arrives at some kind of understanding.
The writing style is exciting, a well written blend of memoir and history. The rich narrative and interesting characters keep the reader turning pages. Obama’s sensual descriptions made the reader feel he is visiting south side of Chicago, Harlem, Indonesia or Kenya. You see the people, hear their voices, taste and smell the food, feel the breeze and smell the ocean.