Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Other Barack

In 1982, Barack Obama Jr., then a student at Columbia University, received a phone call that informed him of his father's passing. The father, which he barely knew and only met once, was killed in a car accident in his native Kenya.

As many of you know, this event will start a path of the now President to find out more about his father - which was explored in his first book, Dreams From My Father. While writing about Barack Sr. for the Boston Globe, Sally H. Jacobs wanted to find out more about the man that who shares a name with the President and little else. The result was The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama's Father.

And bold and reckless it was.

Growing up in the rural part of Kenya, Barack Sr. was raised by a strict man who had several wives. His intelligence made him a star in school, but his arrogance caused him to get kicked out of the country's equivalent of high school. Eventually, he was able to meet Betty Mooney, a literacy worker, who helped him get into the University of Hawaii. At the time, he left behind a wife, a son and a bun in the oven (which became the sister mentioned in Dreams).

We know what happened while Barack Sr. was in Hawaii (or the POTUS wouldn't be here). But after graduating from UH, he went to Harvard to get his PhD in economics. He completed the classes, but was kicked out before he could do his dissertation due to possible lying to immigration officials (which one of them was possibly giving Barack Jr. up for adoption). He went back to a changing Kenya (who just received independence from Britain) where he went through several government jobs, another wife and the assassination of political friend Tom Myoya.

I know Jacobs tried to clean it up and make Barack Sr. a broken man and one despondent over his circumstances, which he was. But he was still:
  • arrogant,
  • a raging alcoholic,
  • a polygamist and a womanizer,
  • a woman beater,
  • and an absentee father (and not only to Barack Jr. He had 6 or 8 kids, depending on who you ask).
Towards the end of his life, he was trying to get back on track, but the last of several car accidents ended his path to redemption.

I felt that this book was more tedious than the book about the POTUS's mother (even though it did give more details about their marriage than A Singular Woman). A lot of if was boggled down in Kenyan history, which may make a reader lose interest. I learned about some of what happened there (I took a current African politics class in undergrad), but I felt like I wanted to get down to read about Barack Sr. The book also talked in detail about Barack Sr's first 30+ years, but rushed through the last 10. And as previously mentioned, this book did not put him in the world's best light.

But I think Barack Sr. would have been proud to know that his son is now the leader of the free world. And he would have said "Of course, that's my son".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

Christopher Crowe.

Christopher Chichester.

Christopher Mountbatten.

These are three names that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter went by. But there is one name he will will be forever linked with.

Clark Rockefeller.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a interesting, well-written book book on how Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant, was able to con people in both coasts and how his massive web of lies finally came down.

For almost twenty years, Gerhartsreiter used different aliases and traveled across the country. He wanted access to the rich and powerful and integrated himself with them while somehow became able to support his "lavish" lifestyle.

While in California under the name Christopher Chichester, he met Didi Sohus, an elderly woman who he eventually ripped off. But her son and daughter-in-law became missing. John Sohus' body was eventually found, but wife Linda was never found. Chichester left town, on to his next city with rich people.

For most of the 90s and well into the 2000s, Gerhartsreiter lived life as Clark Rockefeller, which had many of the rich and powerful impressed because they thought he was a part of the famous family. The chips began to fall when his wife (who didn't know his true identity) divorced and found out that he wasn't a Rockefeller. The situation becomes worst when he kidnaps his young daughter, which became an international manhunt that ended in a Baltimore house.

Author Mark Seal, who started following the story while writing for Vanity Fair, interviewed almost 200 people for this book and did a great job of putting the story together. His extensive research and writing style made this book a pleasure to read from beginning to end.

Gerhartsreiter is scheduled to be released in two years for the kidnapping, but he may be spending the rest of his life in a California prison. In March he was charged with murder in the death of John Sohus. We may not have heard the last of "Clark Rockefeller," but his story will continue to draw interest for years to come.

Note: Received an advanced copy from NetGalley and Viking Press.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

National Book Club Conference 2011

From left, Valinda, Nadia, Veronica, Flash, myself and Cat
As you can tell, my "trying to blog everyday during the conference" experiment didn't work. But now I am back (and got some much needed rest), I can tell you about the AWESOME time I had at the National Book Club Conference in Atlanta.

I attended this great event with the Literary Divas of the Lowcountry, which I am a member of. I was with my friends Cat, Valinda (who you can meet here), Nadia, Veronica and Flashette.

Here is a recap of our experience at NBBC.

Thursday night: We attended the Black Pearls Magazine Chocolate Social. So we got dressed up and walked to the Westin, which is a block or two from the Hyatt, which where the conference was. And for those who don't know what the Westin is, it is the tall round hotel in downtown Atlanta.

So we went to this social and....let's just say we were highly disappointed. The program and the networking was WAY TOO LONG. It was advertised as a dinner and we were hoping it was a sit-down dinner. But instead it was finger foods that they ran out of (Valinda and I were the unlucky ones, barely getting any food). The only sign of chocolate was the candy bars the book club presidents got. And there really wasn't a lot of socializing since a lot of people just got off the road, were tired, and just wanted something to eat. And did I mentioned we each spent $45 on this?

But all was not lost. A lot of authors who were a part of NBBC did take part in the social. We got to meet and see several authors at the event. We also checked out several self-published authors and vendors who were selling their items.

Flash meeting RM Johnson

I got to meet Carleen Brice!

Friday: The day started off with the Bebe Moore Campbell Memorial Award Breakfast, which honored Tina McElroy Ansa. She gave a great speech on her memories of Bebe and how she plans to carry Bebe's legacy with her. There was also an acknowledgement of E. Lynn Harris by R. M. Johnson, who recently completed a book the two were working on together. And did I mention that he sat next to me during breakfast?

Author and panel breakout sessions were next and we first attended the romance panel, with Kimberly Kaye Terry, J. D. Mason, Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson. Then we went to the session with Tayari Jones, who wrote Silver Sparrow. She read from various parts of the book and talked about her inspiration behind it (no, her father is not a bigamist). Just recently read the book (and I'm still P. Oed at James), I was excited to meet her. I think the other book club members (except for Flash, who also read the book) will be reading the book very soon.

We next attended the session with Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who wrote Wench. She was incredible too. She discussed the need for African-Americans to tell their stories and to let the African-American community know that they are loved and cared for.

Next, we attended the panel discussion on Social Media and Books. The event, which discussed how authors use social medial (such as Facebook and Twitter). It was moderated by Malkaika Adero and featured Tananarive Due, Terrance Dean and Allison Hobbs. And then it was announced that Zane was in the audience. Yes, that Zane! :-)

After finally getting a bit to eat, we split up and some of us attended Lutisha Lovely while others attended the Love Literature session with Moses Miller, Marc Lacy and Brian W. Smith. Then we got back together and saw Omar Tyree. Some of my friends were impressed with him, but I was like meh. Maybe because I read some of his most recent works and wasn't too impressed. After that, we attended a closing day reception. After dinner, some of us also attended a social media session that was very informative. Valinda and I got a lot of ideas for our blogs.

Saturday: We started off the day with the World's Largest Book Club Meeting with the one and only Walter Mosely! He was so cool and nice. He answered questions about his book and read the first chapter of the next Leonid McGill book.

We next attended the session with Kimberla Lawson Roby, who talked about the next two books (and yes, one of them is about Curtis and Charlotte).

For those who expected me to see Tyrese and Roland Martin, you would be disappointed because I didn't see them (but I did see Roland and his wife at the closing banquet). Several of us saw Roland at our local Black Expo several years ago. And we weren't interested in seeing Tyrese (and this may have something to do with it). So we took the time to see Carl Weber and eat lunch.

After lunch, we went to see Daniel Black, who is the author of Perfect Peace. And OMG, he was awesome. When he started reading from the book, he acted out the characters! I was very impressed by him and would love to read his other books in the future.

After attending the session with B.W. Read, the book club who wrote Fourth Sunday, we wanted to be early for the panel discussion of The Future of Black Books. Mostly because Cat and I wanted to have our pictures taken with Ernessa T. Carter, for obvious reasons.
Team Davie!

The panel discussion was very interesting. Some expressed fears over e-books and how some self-published authors were selling their books for .99. Others expressed displeasure over the lack of African-American books that become movies. And don't get them started on The Help.

After attending another reception, we got ready for Walter Mosley Author of Distinction Award Dinner. Judge Glenda Hatchett was the honoree. She talked about her latest book, and gave stories about her childhood. She ended the dinner by encouraging everyone to "tell their own story," which is based on advice her father gave her after receiving old textbooks in first grade.

Sunday: Before we said our goodbyes to the NBBC and the city of Atlanta, we attended the children's book panel with Stephanie Perry Moore, L. Divine and Evelyn Coleman. They discussed ways how to reach out to African-American children and how to encourage them to read.

Well, all good things must come to an end. I may not be able to attend the event next year (which is in South Africa), but would love to attend the Women's Empowerment Summit in Atlanta next July. I admit, I was in hog heaven. I felt like Templeton at the fair.