Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Review -- Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

I am a huge Obama fan! Regardless of how the unprecedented economic climate of today is handled by his administration I am a fan of his new wave of hope! He is a great orator and a man of the people these are significant in a time when the "word as sword" and the "pen is mightier than the sword" have been forgotten! Great oration is more than words. It stirs the emotions of the populous, it drags people out of the shadows of indifference and apathy and drives them to unite to do great things or to at least yearn for change! These are important political and social gains! Reading this book is like being offered a glimpse into a tiny segment of a man's soul. It reveals a journey of self'-discovery and offers the reader their own self-revealing journey!

I'd say my knowledge of black history is furnished with generalized historical facts: slavery, the underground railroad, the civil rights movement driven by such names as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, "The Little Rock Nine", and Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus! My most in depth knowledge was gained in a 4th year anthropology course when I studied and analyzed the anthropological writings of Zora Neal Hurston. Her reflections on the inner lives of slaves in "Mules and Men" and her own experiences and self-discovery in "Dust Tracks On a Road" were a source of understanding and fascination to one with a thirst for insight into the culture and history of others. I admit this is a limited knowledge base and I am not black. I cannot say I have an intimate knowledge of the black experience and I will not hide behind the clich├ęd "I have black friends" line many white people tend to use as a means of somehow claiming that intimate understanding. I do not fool myself into believing this!I continue to further my education by delving through shelves stocked with Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes or searching the web for more information on Dr. Joseph Lowery. "Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" brought a new dimension to this search for understanding!

Barack Obama's run for office and later election to the position of President of the United States was an exciting moment for so many, including myself a strong social-minded Canadian. It marked a historical moment of hope and inspiration and in so many ways was a symbol of a race overcoming the cruelties of history. I have understood the historical significance, the personal triumph for those who have fought for their civil rights for decades but I did not know this man. One could conjure up so many images based on racial assumptions but until I read Obama's memoir I had no true insight into this confident, calm, charismatic, and eloquent figure. "Dreams from My Father",written in 1995 before his run at the presidency, reveals the boy and young man that came before the one who stood before a nation and the world on his inauguration day. Racial assumptions mat not apply to Obama. He was, in a sense, sheltered from the American racial climate in his youth. Barack's father was a Kenyan who had been an international student in Hawaii when he met Barack's white mother. Barack's father returned to Africa before Barack really had the opportunity to form his own memories. Barack, early in life moved with his mother to Indonesia after her remarriage and lived there through much of his childhood. It was not until his return to the U.S. that he began to realize that being a black man in America was an illusive but required life skill! Obama, describes with such captivating eloquence and lyricism his struggle to reconcile the two aspects of his interracial identity. In Obama's early adulthood, his father writes {to him} "...the important thing is that you know your people, and also that you know where you belong." and Obama reflects, '"He made it sound simple, like calling directory assistance. "Information--what city please?" "Uh...I'm not sure. I was hoping you could tell me. The name's Obama. Where do I belong?"'(Obama 1995: 115). Kansas (the original home of hie mother's family), Hawaii, Indonesia, to Kenya (home of his father's people) Obama travels along the paths of his family history to discovery his place in the world.

In this book Barack realizes his struggle with identity is not his alone, but rather that of many black and interracial men and women. Some choosing to deny their race and inheritance, some trying desperately to claim two inheritances while society ultimately allows them only one--the one that can plainly be seen in the colouring of skin! He discovers that the "white" and "black" divide exists even within his own family. He brought to light the difficulties of a black man with a white family, the difficulty in reconciling the differences of his interaction with American society from that of his other family members.
Reading this memoir was an enjoyable and enlightening experience. The words are as moving and poignant as the heart inflaming speeches we are now accustomed to Obama orating. I often heard his strong and resonating voice as I read. Not only will this book shed light on the life memories and moments that led a boy to become a political "rock star" but it will shed light on our own understanding of race, our society, and self!

"Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" by Barack Obama is available at all major bookstores and is a New York Times #1 Bestseller!

1 comment:

  1. I too am a huge Obama fan and have yet to read this book. I loved your review though and if I get a chance this weekend I am going to snuggle up on the couch and dive in.