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".

1 comment:

  1. I saw this book on two of my trips to the Borders going out of business sale. I passed on it so I'm glad to see the review here. I would think the Kenyan history would be one of the more interesting sections. But maybe because I've had a fixation on Africa for the past several months.