Thursday, 4 January 2018

BOOK REVIEW - 'Dreams From My Father (Barack Obama)

Author:                      Barack Obama
Country:                    United States
Language:                  English
Genre:                         Memoir
Publisher:                   Times Books (New York Times Book Company)
Publication date:       July 18, 1995
Pages:                         403
ISBN:                         1-4000-8277-3
Dewey Decimal:         973/.0405967625009/0092 B 22

Reviewer:                   Dr. Raphael James

cover of book

  Dreams From My Father (Barack Obama)

A story of race and inheritance, though a memoir. Obama published the book while preparing to launch his political career in a campaign as a senator in Illinois, USA. The author told us the story of how his parents met as students at the University of Hawaii. How he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to (father) Barack Obama Senior, a Kenyan, and (mother) Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas and how they Obama's parents separated in 1963 and eventually divorced in 1964, when he was two years old. Obama’s father enrolled at Harvard to pursue his Ph.D. in Economics. After that, he returned to Kenya in fulfillment of a promise he made to his nation. Obama formed an image of his absent father from stories told by his mother and her parents. He saw his father only one more time, in 1971, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month's visit. The elder Obama died in a car accident in 1982

 Barack Obama and his Mother
Obama and his mother

After her divorce, Ann Dunham remarried Lolo Soetoro, a Javanese surveyor from Indonesia who got financial support for his graduate work through the East-West Center. The family moved to Jakarta. When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents (and later his mother) for the better educational opportunities available there. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a private college-preparatory school, where he was one of only six black students. Obama attended Punahou School from the 5th grade until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama writes: "For my grandparents, my admission into Punahou Academy heralded the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone know." There he met Ray (Keith Kakugawa), who introduced him to the African-American community.

When he finished high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, there he enrolled at Occidental College, where he describes living a "party" lifestyle of drug and alcohol use. After two years at Occidental, he transferred to Columbia College at Columbia University, in New York City, where he majored in political science. Upon graduation, he worked for a year in business. He moved to Chicago, where he worked for a non-profit community organization in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. Obama recounts the difficulty of the experience, as his program faced resistance from entrenched community leaders and apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy. During this period, Obama first visited Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, which became the center of his spiritual life. Before attending Harvard Law School, Obama decided to visit relatives in Kenya. He recounts part of this experience in the final, emotional third part of the book. Obama used his memoir to reflect on his personal experiences on race and race related issues in the United States of America.


In an interview with Said Hussein Obama who was mentioned in page 373, paragraph six, of the book as ‘Sayid’ and was described ‘as a larger clean-shaven man’. Said speaking with Reviewer, introduced himself thus: “My name is Said Hussein Obama, I am an uncle of the President. The very first time that Barrack visited, I did not know he was visiting, I was out of Nairobi, I was in College then. Coincidentally when I came to Nairobi that was when he was visiting too about 25 years ago. We met and he wanted to know the Kenyan part of his family. So we spent good time together and we went around introducing him to his family members. Most of the times we were together driving in the same car and spending the night together. I never knew that he will one day become the President of America. When I asked him if it was in the first visit that Obama started work on his book? He replied: “I am not very sure, the first time he visited was about 1987, then it was just to familiarize himself with his Kenyan family members, which he was keen to know, after then he left and promised to return in about a year or two, but when he went back he wrote me a letter informing me that he got a scholarship to Harvard University, so he went over to Harvard and while he was there he became the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. He did not make it back as he promised in his first visit. It was in his second visit that he commenced work on the book after he had left Harvard and he was ready with research materials. We spent weekends together in the slums of Matari in Nairobi and traveled to Kegolo and many other areas where we had relatives. There was an occasion when we visited my sister who was living in Westlands so we drove to town in a Matutu bus and when we came down we had to by jumping from one bus to the other and eventually when we got to the notorious Oruma corner and then alighted and started working towards Matari valley slum. Matari is one of Africa's largest slums that is home to an estimated half a million people, we were jumping over seaways and I was embarrassed and when I told him how I was feeling he told me not to be embarrassed that he had seen it all even when he was in Indonesia. He is a practical person and down to earth.”        


In another review, in 2008, The Guardian's Rob Woodard wrote that ‘Dreams from My Father’ – “is easily the most honest, daring, and ambitious volume put out by a major US politician in the last 50 years."

The book has an audio edition which earned the author, the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album in 2006. Five days before being sworn in as President in 2009, the author got a $500,000 advance for an abridged version of his book for middle-school-aged children. The book is listed among the top 100 non-fiction books written in English since 1923 by Time International Magazine.

I have read this book twice and I can tell you in good authority that it is a book for every generation and a book for all.
 The reviewer and Barack Obama Grand Mother



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