My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The book would have been so much better had it been written today. There are rumors online about the book being ghostwritten. The voice of the writer changes throughout the book leaving the reader wonder what the emphasis of the book is about – Struggle with bi-racial identity? Illusion of the father-figure who barely knew?
The book begins with a detailed descriptive of Barack Obama’s childhood and “white” side of family. The incredible open-mindedness and kindness of his maternal grandparents, his mother’s emphasis on education, and the relationship between all of them – a half African American boy in a Caucasian family is written well and the suspense is held till the end of the first part where it is revealed what makes his grandfather “Gramps” the liberal man that he is.
What follows in the first part and the second part of the book are the hardest to read. Though I understand the dilemma and struggle with identity, reading through his journey of mental conflicts and how it affects his relationships with his African American friends is hard to relate to. It later progresses to his early work experience which is a worthy read. Obviously this book will be a disappointment for anyone seeking to read about struggles of people from mixed cultures or for political inspiration. Both these areas seem “unfinished” in the book. The only complete story is his unresolved relationship with his father and his African family. Little is spoken about his mother’s other marriages and mother’s other children.
The last part – where he travels to Kenya and discovers further about his father and extended family is the most riveting part of the book. The extended family gives him a warm welcome, a few of them are eager to meet him more out of curiosity than affection and others are seeking to draw him to favor them and extend his support to them. While there are a large number of half-siblings from his father’s other wives, none of them expect him to extend support or question his claim in the petty inheritance. However, an alien to the equation – his father’s sister tries to convince him that he should help her.
This was the most rewarding part of the book for me, personally. He immediately gives her money and leaves. The way in which this minor incident in the book was written suggests how petty this outrageous claim and person is to him. It immediately reminded me of my father’s words to me, “Forgive, be magnanimous, don’t take their mistakes seriously.” Forgiveness has been a journey of self-discovery for me. Especially when it relates to your father and his death, it doesn’t come easily. While Obama was eventually able to understand the old man’s actions, forgives and find closure when he goes this father’s and grandfather’s grave, I could relate to Auma and Roy, his half siblings. They didn’t have the comfort of long distance that “Barry” Obama had. Though both Auma and Roy have difficulty in easing their pains by forgiving everyone, Obama makes a remark- which is the second most rewarding take away for me in this book. He says Auma has a progressive way of dealing with the pain. She seeks to go away from it, is thankful for her education and buries herself in her work in Europe while Roy suffers by carrying the clouds of pain, blame and anger and fails in career and life.
The book ends with Obama’s marriage where he notes happily that Roy has changed for the better – yet another indication of his natural leadership trait long before he became President- to not only forgive but also derive happiness in seeing his people succeed.