Obama as a politician has been always intriguing for me. An unlikely candidate, lanky young black man, enthralling orator, who captures the imagination of a nation and rises to become a President. This is only what I saw from a far away place. But I was curious about his backstory. So as soon as I had some time and mood, grabbed the book.
Considering him a politician, the quality of writing is very good. It chronicles the journey of Obama from childhood to adulthood, and later includes stories about Obama’s parents and grandparents.
What makes this an interesting read is the contrasts present in Mr Obama’s life. An absent Black father, a very loving white mother, time in Hawaii, in Indonesia, student years in top American institutes, an Indonesian step father, distant relatives in Kenya, and experience of racism in American life. How these glaring contrasts shape the world view of an young black American, becomes the theme of this book.
The stories of Obama’s exploits in Boston as an organiser of black community are touching, they include, poverty & isolation of black neighbourhoods, hopelessness in the young kids, prevalence of drugs and crime, absence of males, daily struggles of female mothers. Obama points out conflicts of a black race, that is suddenly in the game deviced by the white man, playing by white man’s rules.
Young Obama seeks answers within. The community should come together, fight for their rights, fight for their upliftment, and build a movement, a movement to initiate change. But is the movement possible without a common antagonist? Is it fair to designate whole white race as this antagonist? These are some tough questions that torment him.
Obama’s visit of Kenya captures some emotional part of this book. He meets his father’s side of family, and for first time, he gets account of stories of his father and grandfather. Exactly who were they, and what drove them. How it all started from a small hut in Kenyan village, and finally culminates in Barack being born in Hawaii to a white mother. But story is bigger than just a family movement, it is an intriguing account of a white civilisation’s conquest of an African society. A society that was stable in it’s ways of life, confident in it’s customs, but suddenly was forced to adopt a new system, a new kind of economy and rules. How a concept of poverty entered into general psyche, a sense of inferiority against shiny world of materialism. If one fails to win them in battle, one gradually drifts into serving them. It is tale of step by step decimation of African life, and varying accounts of reactions against imperialistic force.
Prior to this book, my impression of Obama was of a soft spoken, highly intellectual black man. But now I realise, under that calm surface, lots of battles has been fought, both inner & external. It is also a perspective about what a man does, who is struck by crisis of his own identity, struggles & hopelessness of his community, a community that is reeling in the aftermath of a civilisational battle. Obama is one of those who chose hope, and fought hard, through actions, words and organising. For everyone, that’s a takeaway. Never losing hope, and being a man of action.