Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Dreams from my father, by Barack Obama

Somehow our report of our August meeting slipped through the net, so in the interests of comprehensiveness I'm going to do a brief one now. Eight of us (I think!) met at Celeste's to talk about the book everyone's been talking about - Barack Obama's Dreams from my father - though I think we must have been about the last group to get around to doing it!

Not surprisingly, we all enjoyed it, though some admitted to finding the Chicago section slower going than the rest of the book. We liked the nuanced way he explores the issue of racism and racial experience. By this we meant the way he comprehends racism from a number of perspectives, due perhaps to his own unusual background:
  • he was brought up middle-class and by his white mother and grandparents;
  • he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, and so experienced another set of cultural differences and expectations; and
  • his father, with whom he had some (but not much) contact, was African born (rather than an African American).
These things, together with his personal experiences and, well, his personality, give him a fairly unique basis from which to look at the issue.

Our assessment of Obama was that he is both visionary and compassionate. He is very open on some aspects of his life - such as drinking, smoking and drug-taking in his youth - but pretty reticent about his relationships with women (though clearly he had some - relationships, that is). While we would like to have known more, perhaps it's to his credit that he's discreet!

Finally, we talked a little about the title and the idea that it contains an element of irony. Whose dreams are they? Did his father's dreams carry the seeds of his own destruction? With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that whatever and whosever they are, they have stood him in good stead to date!

(Cover image: Courtesy Text Publishing)