There’s a story, in Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams from my Father‘ of the day Obama joined school in Hawaii. After the introduction from a teacher who talked kindly about Kenya, he says, “I spent the rest of the day in a daze. A red headed girl asked to touch my hair and seemed hurt when I refused. A ruddy faced boy asked me if my father ate people.”
The white versus black world has always been terribly divided, but how tough for a young child caught in the middle. As Obama truly is. Read his book and its clear that Obama is far from the usual WASP politician. He is different . More thoughtful and more analytical. Plus he has a quality that is endearing – that of being on the side of the under-dog. Perhaps this will this mean that his America will be a friendlier super-power. Certainly he has me convinced. Post reading ‘Dreams’ , I find, I follow his trail with more interest, and yes, I do root for him. ( I also feel more consistent in hating his celebrity rival – the sanctimonious Sarah )
But to return to ‘Dreams‘ – it tells his stories of his limbo-land angst. Of his years in Occidental College, Los Angeles, where he is horrified-mesmerized by reading Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ where all Africans are seen as savages. One day in the library he meets an Iranian. “–””Why didn’t black people fight…Had I been a slave, watching these people do what they did to my wife, my children…well. I would gave preferred death. This is what I don’t understand – why so many men did not fight at all .Until death, you see?” the Iranian asks. Comfortable-in-his-black skin friend Marcus falls silent; it is Obama who speaks “asking the Iranian if he knew the names of the untold thousands who had leaped into shark infested waters before their prison ships had ever reached American ports, asking if, once the ships had landed, he would still have preferred death had he known that revolt might only visit more suffering on women and children.”
History clearly haunts Obama, as he struggles through community service in Chicago, trying to raise standards of life among the blacks. It’s also in Chicago that Obama encounters his second black legend (after his first – the forever absent father figure) –Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. You get a clear sense, in this part of the memoir, where Obama sees his eventual destiny. In that sense, Dreams is clearly a politician’s memoir, even though it was written much before Obama became one.
And so Dreams does emerge a sanitized book (for all the much quoted passing references to smoking joints and drinking) But it doesn’t say anything for instance on Obama’s girlfriends, or even on his relationship with wife Michelle. This, is an autobiography is a major minus. There are personal stories though, and for me, I have to say, these were the most interesting sections– those of Obama with his step father in Indonesia, and of Obama in Kenya, where he travels to meet with his father’s other wives and their children.
And though the book dwells, almost fully, on race, this, for me as an Indian reader, was something I could identify with. It also made me want to read other race stories – Maya Angelou’s books, Toni Morrison, even Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Any suggestions on other such powerful race stories?