I continued my total denial of our current political situation by listening to this audiobook by Barack Obama.
Yes, he narrates it himself, and although I initially thought that was the only way to go, I was oddly disappointed. He didn’t use much inflection throughout his narration and the monotone delivery promoted attention wandering and sleepiness. This may have been one that I would have actually been better off reading the old fashioned way.
That said, it’s a pretty powerful book in any format.Because his father went back to Kenya when Barack Jr. was so young, and rarely visited, Obama didn’t have much of a relationship with his father. He was closer to his mother and her parents, who helped raise him. After talking about how he received the news of his father’s death, Obama goes into the story of his grandparents, how they ended up in Hawaii, and their mixed feelings about their daughter’s marriage to an African.
After Barack left, Obama’s mother married an Indonesian man who proposed and then had to hurry back to Indonesia, leaving his wife- and son-to-be to work out visas, shots, and all the mountains of paperwork that come along with moving to a foreign country. Once there, Obama adapted pretty easily (as young children tend to do), and it sounds like his stepfather treated them well and did his best to be a father to the young Obama. But that marriage didn’t work out either and Obama was soon sent back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents until his mother could follow.
Obama then detailed his struggles as a black man growing up in America in the second half of the 20th century. He experienced the same angst and frustration that so many black Americans feel, and this might sound odd, but I found it to be kind of a relief. While we have all been marveling at his unfailingly calm demeanor for the past eight years, it made me feel better to know that he, at least at one time in his life, did not feel as calm as he now appears. It made him more human to me and it gave me hope, not only for my own self improvement, but for the improvement of our country and race relations as a whole.
It sounds like Obama’s frustration even got in the way of his studies. Not that he was flunking out or anything, but that he wasn’t seriously considering college until his mom had a talk with him. That also made me feel better because if the first black president of the U.S. almost didn’t go to college, then there really is hope for me!
Then he talked about how, once in college, he had a great conversation he had with a friend about why he was reading Heart of Darkness, which he followed up with his reasons for deciding to work as a community organizer, how he got the job in Chicago, some of his experiences there, as well as his decision to go to law school and his acceptance into Harvard (where his father had also studied). He learned a lot in Chicago about race relations, black pride (or lack thereof), the different forms they take (some more insidious than others), and the differing opinions on how to solve the problems of Black America. In typical Obama form, none of them were mindless comments to be thrown out there and forgotten. It seems Obama has long been a thoughtful person and he describes several instances in which he had to step back and think about what just happened and analyze his reactions to them. I often felt the need to do the same after finishing a chapter. Sometimes in the middle of a chapter.
I think my favorite part of this book may have been the end, where Obama talks about going to Kenya and meeting his father’s family, who tell him about them, their lives, his father’s life, and his grandfather’s life. It reminded me a lot of the book Homegoing and, again, there’s nothing thoughtless about Obama’s description of his own history. Everything that happened came together to put him where he was and (eventually) make him a trailblazing president for the most powerful country in the world.
The audiobook was recorded in 2005, before he ran for president, but the end contains his acceptance speech as the new senator representing Illinois and his endorsement of John Kerry for president. The speech contains much of the same message of hope contained in his presidential campaign and I had a lot of feelings about it. I kind of just want to listen to it on repeat…
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else that took you back to a happier time?