Three star review, originally posted here on January 2, 2019.
Written way before he became famous, this book sheds some light on Pres Obama’s formative years and his family background. It’s the type of story that is made exponentially more interesting by the fact that the subject goes on to become the most famous person in the world. If Obama had gone on to become, oh, let’s say, a car salesman, I’m not sure I would have cared all that much about this story. Alas, this unique combination of people and events’ wound up eventually churning out one damn fine wall-smashing president, and therein lies the value. In this vein, I found the first half of the book much more engaging than the second. It follows young Obama through his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia and gave some background on his mother’s family. It carefully weighs the concepts of identity, most obviously race but also region, class, sex, education, etc, all interpreted through the lens of a young man discovering himself and observing the behaviors and attitudes of others around him.
The entire last section of the book, however, I just could not get into. At this point Barack travels to Kenya to meet his recently deceased father’s family and to learn his hidden history. It should have been fascinating, but it just wasn’t. I think it has to do with the proximity to the time of writing. Obama was a young adult at this point, and had had enough time to sift through his childhood memories to pick the most poignant moments from his past to share in the book. 20+ years carefully condensed down into a few pages for maximum efficacy. But the very short and recent Kenya visit took up several chapters. It was overly detailed and not yet fully processed. And so it dragged. It also got pretty melodramatic, especially at the end when Obama drops to his knees and cries out to his dead father. He completely lost me there, but luckily that was the dramatic ending of the book so he didn’t lose me for long.
It was definitely worth a read to get a better understanding of this modern hero. And it incited my curiosity about Obama’s mother, who we definitely could have stood to hear more about since she seems like an incredible woman with an incredible story all her own. But the Kenya section was just a bit off balance, so 3 stars it is.