Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Junior Senator from Illinois

I just finished reading Barack Obama’s memoirs from 1994, Dreams from My Father; A Story of Race and Inheritance. Obama’s writing is clear and fluid; and his stories are engaging, especially in their honesty.

Although the book appears to be a memoir, at its heart it is really much more than that. Obama uses his stories, as the son of a black African father and white American mother, to reflect on his feelings on race. The reader watches as his feelings evolve through different parts of his life; from his high school years in Hawaii, his college years in Los Angeles, his time in New York City, his work in Chicago as a community organizer, and finally on a long trip to Kenya to visit his family. His emotions move from youthful selfishness as a reaction to the injustices he sees, to an eagerness to work to give urban Americans some tools to make their lives better.

Obama also uses the fact that he had only met his father once before he died, at age ten, to explore issues of identity, family and responsibility. During his trip to Kenya, he learns much more about who his father was, and although what he finds out isn’t always flattering, there are lessons to be learned in the pressures his father faced.

At times, it can feel like Obama is moving too fast through the book, never spending too much time on the issues be brings up, and therefore never coming to a conclusion. While it feels unsatisfying, it does force the reader to spend more time after reading the book thinking about these issues and coming to their own conclusions.