Book Review: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

2719592Title: Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Author: Barack Obama

Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Memoir, Autobiography, History, Politics, African American, Race, Africa

Publisher: Three Rivers Press

Published: July 1995

Page Amount: 453 pages

Blurb From Goodreads: Nine years before the Senate campaign that made him one of the most influential and compelling voices in American politics, Barack Obama published this lyrical, unsentimental, and powerfully affecting memoir, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller when it was reissued in 2004. Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego.

Why Read: In Germany, there’s not exactly an abundance of used English bookstores. So when I found one in Prenzlauer Berg- you can bet that I took two bags and all of the coins I had. If you’ve been following this blog, you know of my newer obsession with presidential biographies. My focus has mostly been revolutionary America, maybe entering the Era Of Good Feelings- but seeing Obamas early memoir on sale for one euro?! It was too good to resist.

Review: I should have expected this book to be unbelievably touching. I should have prepared to fee wholly inexperienced as an American. Nothing could have accomplished that. Dreams Of My Father does all of those things. The memoir was published in 1998, far before Obama was the experienced president he is now. He doesn’t tell campaign stories (mostly) or tall tales of his hard upbringing. The story is one of a man growing up and discovering his heritage. Kenya, the birthers whisper menacingly. Yeah, so what his father was Kenyan? Why shouldn’t we elect someone with international experience in impoverished countries?

I’m getting off topic again… What I meant to write was: Obama explains what it means to have Kenyan heritage in a country obsessed with creating imaginary racial divisions while simultaneously pretending that we don’t have any.

As a white woman, I have two strikes against me in understanding Obama. I’m not a man and I’m not black. Part of what makes this book so captivating is that it caters to all readers. He uses a voice that speaks to everyone, whether you’ve never known a parent, smoked weed and lost confidence in your own future, gone places and found yourself on your ass, or torn between two separate societal expectations- each page spoke to a different side of the president.

I found myself emphasizing with the leader of the free world in ways I never imagined. A lot of that is the content of the book, but the appeal only increases with how he writes. The man pens like he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. Some people just have it all. The book was one of those that I actually took time to understand. There was no rush to finish and puzzle out how he became president or the exact moment he met Michelle. I wanted to keep going. In fact, the end felt almost bittersweet. Continue, I wanted to say, why can’t 1998 Obama tell me about the presidential campaign? Tell me about secret Oval Office discussions and your deepest insecurities about your future for the world.

How do we become more empathic? How do we achieve a better understanding of other people? My answer would be to read books like this. Read books that tell stories you don’t usually seek out and expose yourself to new ideas that challenge your predispositions. If one collection of 400ish pages of paper can force me into this new void where I must see the world with different eyes, then it must work. If that doesn’t make you want to grab a copy of this as soon as physically possible… I’m not even going to finish this phrase.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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