We all know who Barack Obama is now, but how did he get here? What motivated him? From his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia to his rougher college years and on to his time as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama writes eloquently and compellingly about serious issues that we all wish were in the past already, like racism, suffering, and poverty.
Yep, I voted for Barack Obama. And I’m still quite proud that we, a country still astonishingly full of racism in so many ways, managed to elect a black man to the Presidency. So ever since then, I’ve been very curious about where he came from and how he got to the point where it was reasonable that he might become President. Unfortunately this book doesn’t go quite that far and ends right before he heads to law school, so his final motivations remain unclear. But I think this memoir is valuable for a lot of the things he says but also because it was written before he ever thought to go that far, and as such I think he is somewhat more candid about his life than he would have otherwise been – he mentions drug use numerous times, for example.
I enjoyed how this particular memoir followed a narrative path. Obama acknowledges in the foreword that he changed the names of people he knew and sometimes melded them together to make for an easier reading experience, which at first I wasn’t sure I liked but I’m sure those people are grateful for it now. I definitely felt like I was on a journey, from the moment he realized that he looked different from his mother and grandparents for the first time, to the idolization of his father, to his eventual success and work on behalf of poor black communities in Chicago. I was impressed by how well the memoir was organized and written; it’s also a bit more academic and thoughtful in structure than I would imagine most memoirs written by political figures to be. He doesn’t talk much about his truly personal life – he almost never mentions relationships with women – and I appreciated that a lot.
I was also surprised by how clearly I recognized his narrative voice. I was impressed by how he could reflect on his own experiences and apply them to the wider world – how he was confused as a black teenager and in some way identifies with the teens of Chicago but also recognizes that he was more privileged than them. He can acknowledge the faults of his family members even as it’s obvious how deeply he loved them. I was surprisingly depressed by his experiences in Chicago and saddened by the situation that poor black families found themselves in, with little kids living in houses full of asbestos and public officials lying about its presence. And I was astonished at the stigma that a mixed race couple experienced when he was in his twenties. I have never understood such discrimination and it truly makes me sad when love is dismissed by society because it doesn’t look like the norm.
I truly believe that even people who are the opposite side of the political divide will gain value from this book. It’s not political at all – which is why I chose this one and not his other book – and it is a surprisingly compelling story of a confused boy growing into a man who wants to help people. His life story is fascinating and I was particularly intrigued by the parts of the book set in Kenya and Indonesia, two places I’d never really thought about in depth. Obama’s outsider understanding of these cultures helped mark them out for me and gave me a lot to think about. I am very glad I read Dreams From My Father and I’ve only touched on a few of the many parts of this book that made me think – it’s a valuable memoir that I fully enjoyed reading.
I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library. They like Barack Obama in the UK.