Barack Obama...has somehow managed to live an uncommonly interesting life, and writes about it frankly and well.... His account moves from Kansas to Hawaii to Kenya, with an emphasis on the father who died when Mr. Obama was very young. If he could rewrite it now, he says, the mother who raised him (and died after the book was published) would play a bigger role. But Mr. Obama would still break the mold of most memoir writers, if only because "an autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events." With this thought comes a truly unusual acknowledgment: "There is none of that here."
Janet Maslin - New York Times (9/10/04)
Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois and the Democratic Party’s new rock star, is that rare politician who can actually write — and write movingly and genuinely about himself.... Most memorably, the book gave the reader a heartfelt sense of what it was like to grow up in the 1960’s and 70’s, straddling America’s color lines: the sense of knowing two worlds and belonging to neither, the sense of having to forge an identity of his own.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times (10/17/06)
Fluidly, calmly, insightfully, Obama guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race.
Washington Post Book World
Elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama was offered a book contract, but the intellectual journey he planned to recount became instead this poignant, probing memoir of an unusual life. Born in 1961 to a white American woman and a black Kenyan student, Obama was reared in Hawaii by his mother and her parents, his father having left for further study and a return home to Africa. So Obama's not-unhappy youth is nevertheless a lonely voyage to racial identity, tensions in school, struggling with black literature-with one month-long visit when he was 10 from his commanding father. After college, Obama became a community organizer in Chicago. He slowly found place and purpose among folks of similar hue but different memory, winning enough small victories to commit himself to the work-he's now a civil rights lawyer there. Before going to law school, he finally visited Kenya; with his father dead, he still confronted obligation and loss, and found wellsprings of love and attachment. Obama leaves some lingering questions—his mother is virtually absent—but still has written a resonant book.
Obama argues with himself on almost every page of this lively autobiographical conversation. He gets you to agree with him, and then he brings in a counternarrative that seems just as convincing. Son of a white American mother and of a black Kenyan father whom he never knew, Obama grew up mainly in Hawaii. After college, he worked for three years as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side. Then, finally, he went to Kenya, to find the world of his dead father, his "authentic" self. Will the truth set you free, Obama asks? Or will it disappoint? Both, it seems. His search for himself as a black American is rooted in the particulars of his daily life; it also reads like a wry commentary about all of us. He dismisses stereotypes of the "tragic mulatto" and then shows how much we are all caught between messy contradictions and disparate communities. He discovers that Kenya has 400 different tribes, each of them with stereotypes of the others. Obama is candid about racism and poverty and corruption, in Chicago and in Kenya. Yet he does find community and authenticity, not in any romantic cliche, but with "honest, decent men and women who have attainable ambitions and the determination to see them through.
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