“The book belongs in the category of literature and memoir, not history and autobiography. The themes of the book control character and chronology.” [Darleen Click]
So writes David Maraniss of Barack Obama’s putative autobiography Dreams of my Father
Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story punctures two sets of falsehoods: The family tales Obama passed on, unknowing; and the stories Obama made up. The 672-page book closes before Obama enters law school, and Maraniss has promised another volumne, but by its conclusion I counted 38 instances in which the biographer convincingly disputes significant elements of Obama’s own story of his life and his family history. [...]
Maraniss finds that Obama’s young life was basically conventional, his personal struggles prosaic and later exaggerated. He finds that race, central to Obama’s later thought and included in the subtitle of his memoir, wasn’t a central factor in his Hawaii youth or the existential struggles of his young adulthood. And he concludes that attempts, which Obama encouraged in his memoir, to view him through the prism of race “can lead to a misinterpretation” of the sense of “outsiderness” that Maraniss puts at the core of Obama’s identity and ambition. [...]
As Obama’s Chicago mentor Jerry Kellman tells Maraniss in a different context, “Everything didn’t revolve around race.”
Those are just a few examples in biography whose insistence on accuracy will not be mistaken for pedantry. Maraniss is a master storyteller, and his interest in revising Obama’s history is in part an interest in why and how stories are told, a theme that recurs in the memoir. Obama himself, he notes, saw affectionately through his grandfather Stanley’s fabulizing,” describing the older man’s tendency to rewrite “history to conform with the image he wished for himself.” Indeed, Obama comes from a long line of storytellers, and at times fabulists, on both sides.
Dick Opar, a distant Obama relative who served as a senior Kenyan police official, and who was among the sources dismissing legends of anti-colonial heroism, put it more bluntly.
“People make up stories,” he told Maraniss.
Indeed. Though this is only a little vindication for the people who suspected, and pointed out, Barry’s empty suit in 2008 and were subsequently dismissed as unhelpful or raaaaacist. Fact remains, honest reporters should have actually vetted Obama more than four years ago. Vetting is not a biographer’s job.
Tags: barack obama: the story, dreams of my father, obama