Saturday, December 20, 2008

What I read: "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama

Our president-elect wrote "Dreams from My Father" back in 1995, shortly after he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. You can see why I thought this book would be relevant now. Not that everything (or even most of what) I read is relevant.

"Dreams from My Father" is an ambitious book, written by an ambitious young man. And it may have been a bit too ambitious for Obama so early in his career. As he says himself in the Preface to the 2004 edition:

I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity.
That said, the book is filled with beautiful images of Obama's childhood in Hawaii and his visit to family in Kenya, as well as a youthful angst based on a search for identity.

Raised by a white mother and grandparents, young Barack never quite fit in. I'm sure we all experience something like that as children, but I can only imagine how hard it would be when you don't even resemble your own family.

Although the book is a bit self-indulgent (and really, what memoir isn't) it's an intimate look at a man with no idea he would one day become one of the most powerful people in the world.

While working in Chicago as a community organizer -- a phrase that was spit out like curse words during the recent campaign -- Obama tried to mentor a friend's teenage son.

I asked him if he was still thinking about the air force, and he shook his head; he'd stay in Chicago, he said, find a job and get his own place. I asked him what had changed his mind. He said that the air force would never let a black man fly a plane.

I looked at him crossly. "Who told you that mess?"

Kyle shrugged. "Don't need somebody to tell me that. Just is, that's all."

"Man, that's the wrong attitude. You can do whatever you want if you're willing to work for it."
Many passages moved me, because hindsight is 20/20, and one slight change in Obama's past would have lead him down a very different path. We've yet to see what kind of president he will be, but this book gives insight into the kind of man he is.

I was especially moved by the tribute to his mother (from the preface to the 2004 edition):

I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book--less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life. In my daughters, I see her every day, her joy, her capacity for wonder. I won't try to describe how deeply I mourn her passing still. I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.

You have to respect a man who loves his momma.

1 comment:

Kate said...

It sounds like a really great read. Let us know how you like the next one.