When still a law student in 1995, United States President Barack Obama penned the memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “in the wake of some modest publicity” he says, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.
Born to a white American mother and black father from Kenya, Obama, while growing up, struggled with issues stemming from his multi-racial descent and from his father’s absence from his life.
As an adult, he established contact with his Kenyan relatives, who told him somewhat of their family history. But it wasn’t until after Obama visited Kenya, met other family members, and walked upon the soil of his ancestors that he achieved closure and a sense of resolution to his identity crisis.
It’s a wonderful book, written in a sensitive and lyrical manner, glowing in its honesty and simplicity, showcasing Obama’s considerable talents as a writer:
I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines.
Some years ago, I became interested in memoirs and other forms of biographical narrative as an aspect of non-fictional creative writing. On my shelves are the life stories of individuals from varied walks of life, from English royalty to Japanese courtiers.
It’s interesting to learn about their different motivations, likes and dislikes, priorities, fears, loves – all the things that shaped and influenced them to become what they are.
Dreams from My Father is not merely a welcome addition to my collection of memoirs, a literary trophy to display on the shelf telling me about one man’s journey to discover himself. Unlike the other biographies I’ve read, it had a profound effect on me: that of forcing me to confront my own issues of identity and my relationship with my parents, especially my father. Even past middle age, I still don’t have the courage to explore the hidden recesses of my mind where childhood memories too painful to examine have been bricked up behind mentally-constructed walls.
Obama’s exploration of these issues in his own life and his decision to reveal them to the world show his strength of character and courage of conviction.
In 2006, when serving as the senator of Illinois, Obama wrote another book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which, like Dreams, topped the New York Times bestseller list.
I look forward to more books by this author, wondering if, as president of the most powerful nation in the world, he will still have the time and opportunity to write. I hope he makes the time to do so. I hope we don’t have to wait until after his presidency to enjoy another book by this man who is now one of the world’s foremost leaders and one of the literary world’s bright new lights.