Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

A Remarkable Story

In R.Richardson, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

‘Dreams From My Father’ by Barack Obama

Non-fiction/memoir review by Ruth Richardson

A year ago the general public was just starting to become familiar with the name Barack Obama. Today he is, arguably, the most famous man in the world.

In the weeks and months before his election, newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic were full of reports and comments outlining Obama’s policies. But apart from the startling fact that he was to be America’s first black president there was not much detail about what in his family background led him to this point.

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY: Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father, recounts the emotional journey he made to reconcile both sides of his divided inheritance. As well as being a skilled orator, it is apparent that Obama is a natural narrater. His open and engaging style makes this a compelling read.

The book is in three sections. “Origins” details Obama’s childhood and adolescence in Indonesia and Hawaii. “Chicago” deals with his work as a community organiser and his realisation that to bring about real change needed political involvement. Finally in “Kenya” Obama travels to meet and understand his father’s family and background.

WORKING OUT WHERE HE BELONGED: This is a very honest memoir. Obama by no means treads the prescribed path, and there were times in his young life when he could easily have become disaffected. A large section in “Origins” involves his working out where he belonged in society. “What I needed,” he wrote, “was a community that cut deeper than the common despair that black friends and I shared when reading the latest crime statistics… a place where I could put down stakes and test my commitments”. Soon he decided to become a community organiser.

The section “Chicago” describing his work in that city, shows the crystalisation of his social and political views. We are introduced to a host of characters, some inspiring, some the reverse. Obama works with churches, schools and community centres, demonstrating his ability to bring together people with different agendas. Above all, he is prepared to listen and to respect those from all walks of life with whom he comes into contact.

BACK TO AFRICA: The final section, “Kenya”, is in some ways the most interesting. Obama arrives, as it were, as an American tourist, and describes vividly the sights and sounds of Africa. But of course he has a deeper purpose, as he gets to know his large complicated extended family and hears the family’s history from other members. There had been rifts in the family, and Obama listens without making judgements.

This is quite a lengthy book and deserves to be savoured. In an age when politicians are viewed with scepticism on both sides of the Atlantic, it is refreshing to read a memoir both moving and honest from this world leader.

Price £14.99, from Granta.

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