Barak Obama’s book Dreams from My Father is one of the best books I’ve read this year. His writing is so well balanced and lyrical. He gives just enough description of the physical settings, the sights and sounds and tastes so that you can imagine yourself walking along with him. He tells the story of his life from childhood, through adolescence and adulthood. Along the way he muses over his values, longings, struggle for identity, and of course, his dreams. I think what makes his writing most engaging for me is the tender, compassionate interest he has for all the people he meets along the way. He describes the lives of his family, his friends, his colleagues and his neighbors with such insight and affection it allows me see more beauty in my own world.
Barak’s father was Kenyan and his mother is a white American. He was born in Kansas and lived for many years in Hawaii with his maternal grandparents. His father moved back to Kenya when he was an infant, and he only knew him for one brief visit during his childhood. His mother’s second marriage was to an Indonesian man, and the family lived in Indonesia for several years while Barak was growing up. He later moved back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents while his mother continued to work in Indonesia. He went to college in LA, and then moved to NYC for his first job. After a few years he moved to Chicago and started working as a community organizer. I was fascinated to watch his career unfold, as I have never before been able to visualize how a person gets that kind of work going. I am also curious about how one gets involved in politics the way Barak did. I hope he will write a sequel so I can see how the rest of his career goes.
Some of the most visually and emotionally stimulating chapters of his story tell about his trips to Kenya to visit his family a few years after the death of his father. He gets to know his sisters and brothers and extended family, and learns of the way of life in Kenya. Again his writing style is so engaging, I found myself looking forward to the end of the day when my kids were in bed and I could curl up and read this book. I stayed up too late many nights and was bleary eyed the next day, and I was really sad when it was over. I think I am going to start it again, as soon as I let my son read it.
There are many things I want to discuss with others who have read the book, including issues of justice, racism, poverty, power and identity. If you have read it, please post your comments and we can get a discussion going. If you haven’t read it yet, go find this book and read it. Then come back and post or blog yourself about it, and lets talk! This is a great book.