I just finished reading several books about the Obama family, so thought I would share a few thoughts about them.
The first one is The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook. Here is the review I posted to goodreads.com when I read it last year:
The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family is an interesting mix of the history and origin of the Obama family and the history of Kenya. The book explores the origins of the Luo tribe, how they migrated to the eastern coast of Lake Victoria and how they responded to cultural changes brought by European exploration and colonization. The book provides details of the most recent generations of the Obama family and shows how national politics, family politics, religious differences and cultural change affected them and split the clan into several groups. The book details how the life of Barack Obama Senior was influenced by his Muslim father, his involvement in Nationalistic politics and his American education. The book also explores his return to Kenya after his time at Harvard and how politics affected his life and eventually lead to his early death.
A couple of months ago I read Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss. I only wrote a short review on goodreads.com.
A well researched look at how Obama’s character was shaped. The book begins with the lives of his Grandparents and ends with him heading off to Harvard for law school. The author also brings out the facts behind many of the composite characters in Dreams from My Father and gives us a much clearer view of the character of our President.
I really enjoyed this book as I like the format. I have seen this book referred to as a Generational Biography, as it covers several generations of the family and how they affected each other. I am not sure if this is an established genre, but it is a format that I really like.
The next book is also what I would consider a Generational Biography. I was at the library and saw this book on the new book shelf. American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarns tells the story of the ancestors of Michelle Obama. Here is my review from goodreads.com.
I gave this book four stars for the genealogy content, not for how it was presented. The author did a great job pulling together current research on the ancestry of Michelle Obama as well as making her own contribution through interviews and DNA testing.
I would have enjoyed the book more if it would have placed more emphasis on facts instead of speculation on why certain events happened. Also, there was a lot of repetition in the book and sometimes it seemed like a series of articles instead of a sequence of chapters. In retrospect, I would have read the chapters in a different order. I would have preferred a chronological order instead of starting with recent generations and then going into the past in later chapters.
The first part of the book was very engaging with a lot of facts about the family while the second half became a historical look at slavery with fewer facts about the family. I would have given the book five stars if it would have taken a chapter or two to present the known facts about the family up to the end of the Civil War and then followed each branch down to the present time in the following chapters.
The next book that I read was Homeland: An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival by George Obama. This was a very interesting book, as it is a memoir of George Obama who is the youngest half-brother of Barack Obama. George was only six months old when his father died. The book follows his upbringing in an affluent home with his Mother and his French step-father. When his step-father left the family when he was fifteen, George dropped out of school and started to smoke hash and drink heavily.
George eventually went to live with his Aunt Sarah in a Nairobi ghetto. There he started running with a gang and eventually was thrown into prison. He was soon arrested for a crime that he did not commit, and we get an interesting look at the Kenyan justice and prison systems as he finally defends himself and is released after spending nine months in jail. George then turns his life around and starts working with the youth of the ghetto and organizes a football team that eventually wins a championship. George also talks about the two times that he met his half-brother, Barack and how he has inspired him.
This week I finished reading Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. I wish that I had read this book earlier. One of the features of this book is that it uses composite characters. Many of the characters in the story are not actual people, but composites of several people who had an influence in Obama’s life. Also, to build the story line, events are also presented out of their proper order. This made it confusing for me after reading the other biographies that covered the lives of Barack and his father. The only way that I can reconcile the different accounts is to look at this book as a story based on the life of Barack, and not as a true autobiography or memoir. It may also be that his early years are based on what he was told, rather than on what really happened. One example, is that he talks about his Father leaving his Mother in Hawaii to go to Harvard. Several other books show that what really happened is that his Mother left Hawaii with him shortly after his birth to return to Seattle for school. She did not return to Hawaii until after Barack Sr. had left for Harvard.
Even though there are inconsistencies between this book and other biographies, I still enjoyed reading it. The story flows well from event to event and you can see how the different events in his life helped shape his character.
I am sure that many more biographies will be written about Barack Obama in the future, and we will be able so see a more complete picture of his life. I am sure that someone is already working on another Generational Biography that chronicles the recent genealogical discoveries that were announced by Ancestry.com this week. You can find the new documents about his 11th great-grandfather John Punch here.