Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Review: Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

By Stephen Northcutt

Chapter one is very powerful, the thought of a African man married to a white woman in the United States in the 50s; wow. The descriptions of the ugly things that were said were painful for me. When they got to Hawaii, I breathed a sign of relief. I grew up in Hawaii and then, as now, we had every color of people one can imagine, though in those days far fewer white people than today. Then his mother meets another man at university and marries Lolo and they are off to Indonesia. I enjoyed chapter two where Lolo teaches him to box. There is a discussion about a man being killed because he was weak, that must have left a very strong impression on Mr.Obama; better to be strong! The author moves from topic to topic very quickly, one minute he is being forced to do extra schooling, the next he is getting stitches from an injury playing. In chapter three we are back in Hawaii and in school at the age of ten at Punahou; I went to public school, Punahou was for children of privilege. By the time I reached chapter five I was considering putting down the book, I realize we have to talk about our background to help people know who we are, but it was getting tiresome. There was a powerful line in chapter five, it was the only reason I read chapter six:

My identity might begin with the fact of my face, bit it didn't, couldn't, end there.

Chapter six was confusing, at one point he writes that his father had died and then he talks about seeing him in jail. Fortunately, we reach part two of the book; hopefully, it will be stronger. The heading says Chicago, but we are still in New York and the discussion seems to be organizing people for civil rights. At the end of the chapter we go to Chicago. Another line I think that is important in understanding the author pops up in chapter eight; he is getting his hair cut:

What's your name anyway?
Barack, huh. You a Muslim?
Grandfather was.

Chapter eight was fairly hard on the Christian church too, but I am sure these are all things that he experienced. On the other hand, I have to wonder if he ever experienced a church helping a widow, or filling in at a soup kitchen; I have seen such things happen and they could have ended up in the book. The writing improves in chapter ten, either I am more familiar with the way he says things or he did a better job of telling a story. The book is getting better, in chapter 11, there is a story about Mr. Obama and a girl that he almost clicked with, but it didn't work out.

Do you ever hear from her?
I got a postcard at Christmas. She's happy now; she's met someone. And I have my work.
Is that enough?

The CHA story is great though, like so much of the book, a bit sad. He stays on one story for pages instead of a few paragraphs, you can sense the excitement and investment. I am glad I did not put the book down after chapter six. The final section of the book is back in Africa. Mr. Obama paints the picture very well, he doesn't overly dramatize the problems, but he has keen observational skills and you can see foreshadowing of today's present troubles. The book ends better than it begins, that is for sure. Mr. Obama was very generous to let so many strangers into his headspace. I suppose the $64,000 question is whether a reader is more or less likely to vote for him after reading the book. Speaking only for myself, I do not know, but I certainly feel that I know "Barry" ( you have to read the book to understand ) better. Tucked in the very back of the book is an excerpt from another one of his books, The Audacity of Hope, I will close with an exceprt:

What's troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.