Sunday, February 07, 2010

Review: Dreams of My Father

In reviewing this book by American President Obama, I am really late into the show. Dreams of My Father was his first autobiography and he had since written The Audacity of Hope which I am reading now. Let me just say that this is simply the best book I've read on race, I've not read many though. The book is divided into 3 parts, so I shall also present my reflection in that manner.

Here, Obama talks about his early schooling days. But in reflecting about his Black-White family background, his life experiences in Indonesia, Hawaii and LA, this is actually a search for his own identity. It is a search into what it means for him to be Black. I personally think that this is the best part of the book. It is extremely introspective about life and about humanity. It reviews the historical situations very well, and the thoughts on racism have really germinated a long time with Obama. I really like this part for its brutal honesty and it draws me into a world I've never known before.

The truth is that race is never an issue for me in Singapore. I've not experienced life as a minority (except as a Christian maybe), and I've never harbor racist thoughts (in my opinion). It may well be because I've been well indoctrinated by the Singapore government on the virtues of multi-racialism, and the belief in equality and justice in Christianity. I just find it hard to sympathize with people who look at society through racist lens, whether it is White or Black supremacy. This book truly opened a window for me to peer at that scary world.

In reflecting on this, I count it divine providence that I am better acquainted with that world as I embarked on the sermon series on Esther in Church. I've been taught in Sunday School that Esther is about courage and divine deliverance. It is with the study of commentaries that I realise how much Esther is about Racism. I'm glad that Obama's book has started me to think about such issues at a deeper level.

This potion continues the previous themes of race and the search for identity. But it is also a glimpse into what is poverty, social apathy and politics. Obama's life experiences as a community organizer is a very revealing one. As I read his stories fighting against indifference and skepticism, I keep thinking about the battle that I have against certain similar groups in church. I'm listening and I'm trying, but the disappointments can be rather devastating. Self-interest is a reality that every leader has to deal with. Obama's idealism somewhat matches my own. I find it hard to dissociate his struggles in the pages from mine. I like the honesty in this section too, but the plodding incremental change is truly a hard pill to swallow. I guess not every story is like Room to Read.

This final potion is so-so for me. The story of Africa is not so unfamiliar for me. Having been exposed to films like Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond and Last King of Scotland, this final potion about Obama's visit back home is really tame in comparison. This main lesson I learned is about family. Family is complicated. And big families complicate matters exponentially. Because of the multiple wives and many children, the relationships had gotten all mixed-up in Obama's case. This really lets me appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the modern family.

I heartily recommend this book. There are reviews that say that there are no other autobiographies like this one and I couldn't agree more. It is the depth in which a search for identity can really take you that is the surprising factor of this book.

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