Saturday, April 28, 2007
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
Barack Obama is a very impressive man. He has risen to prominence so quickly and, while I was reading his book, announced his candidancy for the President. And his book is impressive as well. There are really two stories here: One is Obama's own personal story and the other is the story of the black experience, not just in America but in Africa as well. And, of course, the stories are very intertwined. He tells the one story calmly, very straight-forward and matter-of-fact. But you can feel his emotions as he tells his personal history. And Obama is a very lyrical writer. Some of his descriptions are so poignant and beautiful.His personal story is his quest to find himself as a black man with a white mother, how does he cope with the injustices faced by blacks in this country and how does he integrate his love for his mother and her parents who raised him with the anger that is felt by most blacks towards white people. He also helps explain that anger. He looks for answers in his deceased father's native country of Kenya, looking for himself as he visits with multitudes of relatives for the first time. This section was my personal favorite. He brings the struggles faced by his family as well as most natives in Africa into sharp relief, but also brings to life their culture and the beauty of the country.Part of his own personal growth involves his work on the South Side of Chicago trying to improve education and living conditions for the people there. Not being a believer himself, he finally attends church with some of those whom he is working with and for. I loved this passage: "Those stories--of survival, and freedom, and hope--became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shamed about, memories more accessible than those of ancient Egypt, memories that all people might study and cherish--and with which we could start to rebuild. And if a part of me continued to feel that this Sunday communion sometimes simplified our condition, that it could sometimes disguise or suppress the very real conflicts amoung us and would fulfill its promise only through action, I also felt for the first time how that spirit carried within it, nascent, incomplete, the possibility of moving beyond our narrow dreams. The audacity of hope!"
After his trip to Kenya, Obama returns to the US and attends law school at Harvard. And he contemplates not just the struggles of blacks in this country, but those of the Japanese interned in WW2, Russian Jews in sweatshops, dust-bowl farmers leaving their dreams behind, and those on the borders waiting to come in. "I hear all of these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life. What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don't always satisfy me--for every Brown vs Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed. And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow ultimately prevail."
I learned so much reading this book, sometimes I was uncomfortable, sometimes moved, entertained, even bored a few times. But it made me think a great deal and ask a lot of questions.
Posted by Framed at 8:49 PM
Sounds like a very intense book, but I would be really interested in reading it. I just heard of Obama two days ago in the news.
I'm curious. Is there any indication anywhere in the book that specifies whether he wrote this in conjunction with a ghost writer? Or is he really one of those gifted souls who can write such beautiful sentences without help? I am really thinking I need to read this book before the election.
Jill, the book was written in 1995 before he really started having politcal aspirations. He was asked to write a book about the black experience because he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He ended up writing his own memoirs. There is no ghostwriter mentioned.Alyson, I think you would enjoy this book. It's well-written and very interesting.
My Sage reader hasn't been working. It doesn't show that you have any new posts and yet, I stop by and there are 5 or so. Grrrr!Sounds like a book I need to read before the elections, too. Very nice review.
Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...
I picked this up last night in the book store but put it back in favourite of a biography of Katherine Hepburn. I'll be picking up Obama next time I'm at the bookshop!
This is a wonderful write-up, an essay a college professor would mark with an "A!" Really, it gave me such a good picture of the book that I want to go borrow it from the library. Quite a man.