Dreams of the absent father

This book would be fascinating even if its author were not now president of the United States. It's the voice of a very young Obama (he's still not very old, especially for a U.S. president), just out of Harvard Law School. Obama, Barack. Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance. Rev. ed. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. It's the work of a young man, learning how to write a book and using the richest material he had, his own experience. Especially resonant for me were his pages on his community organizing experience -- frustrations and small triumphs -- in black Chicago. I too was a community organizer in a Chicago community, a few years earlier and many blocks north, in the Division Street area, then (1964-66) mostly Puerto Rican. And I recognize those feelings of the young organizer -- "Anything is possible," "Yes, we can" -- and surprise and disappointment when the people we're counting on turn out to have much more complex motives than we had imagined. And that sometimes take a long time to discover, because people are embarrassed to admit something (e.g., illiteracy, or some relationship or past event) or because they disguise their true motives under a mask of bravado or, most commonly, because they don't well understand their own impulses and anxieties.

I'm glad the author became our president. I think he's the best man possible at this time. But he would have still been impressive if he'd merely made himself a professional writer. This is a beautiful memoir, generous to those people in Chicago, to his stepfather in Indonesia, to his mother and his Kansas grandparents in Hawaii, and especially to the absent but imaginatively very present father. And it will help all of us Americans who are not black to understand a little better how a black man experiences our society.

Photos of Barack Obama, Sr., from BarackObama-net.

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