Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Dreams from My Father

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is a memoir by President Barack Obama, written after he was the first African-American elected president of the Harvard Law Review. It was first published in 1995, before his first political campaign, and was republished in 2004, during his U.S .Senate race. So while there are politics in this book, it is not about his life as a politician. And unlike so many of the books politicians put out during a campaign, it is still interesting to read when the race is over.

The outlines of President Obama's life are well-known: his white mother from Kansas and his black father from Kenya met in college in Hawai'i, married, and had him. Soon after, his father left, first to go to Harvard, then back to Africa, and only returned for a month when Barack Jr was 10. Barack Sr. died without his son having gotten to know him as an adult.

Dreams from My Father can be read on two primary levels: one is simply as a man's life story. Obama's young life was somewhat unusual - growing up in Hawai'i and Indonesia, time as a community organizer in Chicago, family in Kenya - but not, I think, so extraordinary as to be incomprehensible. (It's not like he grew up on Mars, after all.)

The other way one can read this book is as a meditation on race in America. Obama explores what was like to grow up as a black man, even though his white mother and grandparents raised him. Along the way, he discusses how race effects the way a person is viewed in this country and what it means to straddle different cultures, not just brown vs. white, but African vs. American.

I found Dreams from My Father to be an interested, thought-provoking read. Would it be as interesting if you didn't know this young man would grow up to be President? I believe so.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

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