Writers come from all walks of life. It's not odd that many famous people choose to write/ghostwrite a memoir after they retire, but it's unusual for a very famous person to write one before he becomes famous.
I'm talking about Barack Obama, out-going US President. Dreams from My Father, first published in 1995, then re-published in 2004, makes riveting reading in my opinion. According to the blurb, "...it is a 'lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir [about] the son of a black African father and a white American mother [who] searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American."
If you haven't read it, you can probably guess what lies between the pages. Sure it's provocative, as Obama describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither, but I'm posting about the writer, Barack Obama, here today.
I'm a sucker for Prefaces/Acknowledgements and so on, and I found the Preface to the memoir intriguing when Obama talks about writing this memoir.
"Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book's publication--hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying. The reality fell somewhere in between. The reviews were mildly favourable. People actually showed up at the readings my publisher arranged. The sales were underwhelming. And, after a few months, I went on with the business of my life, certain that my career as an author would be short-lived, but glad to have survived the process with my dignity more or less intact."
There was a spate of publicity following Obama's election to the Democratic US senate seat for Illinois. His publisher was prompted to re-publish the book. Obama said:
"For the first time in many years, I've pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice may have changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity. I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine--that I would tell the story much differently today than I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research."
"And then, on September 11, 2001, the world fractured.
It's beyond my skill as a writer to capture that day, and the days that would follow--the planes, like specters, vanishing into steel and glass, the slow-motion cascade of the towers crumbling into themselves, the ash-covered figures wandering the streets; the anguish and the fear. Nor do I begin to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction."
I think he captured the day and the aftermath exceedingly well.
Then there's the bond he shares with his mother:
"She traveled the world, working in the distant villages of Asia and Africa, helping women buy a sewing machine or a milk cow or an education that might give them a foothold in the world's economy...We saw each other frequently, our bond unbroken. During the writing of this book, she would read the drafts, correcting stories that I had misunderstood, careful not to comment on my characterization of her but quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father's character.I think Barack Obama shares many of our insecurities about writing. I felt inspired to know someone of his ilk struggled with his subject matter and syntax. How many times have you asked yourself as a writer, 'Why does the world need a book by me?'
...she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her."
Farewell, President Barack Obama, much loved here in Australia, and I suspect, in many countries around the world.
Thanks for reading.