Like most clear thinking people, I'm a huge fan of Barack Obama. His speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention was phenomenal, and he comes across as earnest, clear-headed and absolutely focused on doing the right thing. He IS the future of the Democratic Party, and it's a wonderful thing that his race has nothing to do with it. But that isn't to say that Obama isn't defined by others and himself by his multi-cultural background. I picked this up a few months ago thinking it was about politics, and that it would help me decide whether Obama was for real or not.
Well, the latter part is absolutely true: Obama is for real, and I'd love for him to run anything I was a part of, up to and including my country. (Hell, especially my country.) The language he uses is raw and beautiful, he is honest and clear, and the way he structures his story belies an intelligent creative mind that, suffice it to say, hasn't been in the Oval Office in the 21st century.
But the book itself is largely not about politics. Certainly, we understand a lot about Obama through his work in the poor neighborhoods outside Chicago. He makes occasional references to Reagan's policies and describes them in negative terms. But this book is much, much more about his personal journey to come to grips with himself, mostly in terms of how he defined himself. As the son of a African father and white mother, who grew up in Kansas, Hawaii and Indonesia, Barack Obama had an unusual upbringing, to say the least. But as much as he belatedly recognized the joy and benefits of that background, he struggled with it throughout his early years. Was he black? White? Something else without a name? Was he an American or African? Why did he call himself Barry instead of his full name Barack?
If you have ever heard Obama speak, you know that without a DOUBT, this is a man who knows exactly who he is today. And there is no question of that - reading about his journey to that point is remarkable and enjoyable. While the book has some blips -- one story told to him by a relative is far too long and all in quotes as if it's literally being told, and it doesn't quite work, as just one example -- the overall impact is very solid.
What other President, or potential Presidential candidate, could or would have written this?
Winter came and the city turned monochrome -- black trees against gray sky above white earth. Night now fell in midafternoon, especially when the snowstorms rolled in, boundless prairie storms that set the sky close to the ground, the city lights reflected against the clouds.
The work was tougher in such weather. Mounds of fine white powder blew through the cracks of my car, down my collar and into the openings of my coat. On rounds of interviews, I never spent enough time in one place to thaw properly, and parking spaces became scarce on the snow-narrowed streets -- everyone, it seemed, had a cautionary tale about fights breaking out over parking spaces after a heavy snow, the resulting brawl or shooting. Attendance at evening meetings became more sporadic; people called at the last minute to say they had the flu or their car wouldn't start; those who did come looked damp and resentful. At times, driving home from such evenings, with the northern gusts off the lake shaking my car across the lane dividers, I would momentarily forget where I was, my thoughts a numbed reflection of the silence.
I mean...sure, it's not politics, but wouldn't you want a mind like that in office?