An Obama's Journey
My Odyssey of Self-Discovery across Three Cultures
by Mark Obama Ndesandjo
Book Review by Kam Williams
Globe Pequot Press
“’My family will hate me for this book, baby,’ I explained [to my wife]. She hugged me and assured me they would not, while no doubt sensing I was right.
Later that day in Beijing, my brother replied to an interviewer’s question about our meeting: ‘I don’t know him very well. I met him for the first time only two years ago.’
Hearing myself referred to in the third person like that felt surreal… The pain in my heart disregarded any logic or excuse. After all, I had met him a number of times before…
At that moment, my brother scared me… He had become not my brother, but the President of the United States. This was the politicking Barack, in the media spotlight where politicians perform every day.
I’d thought there might be something about our family tie that would override the carefully bland, ready response, but the dismissive words were spoken… How naïve I had been.”
-- Excerpted from the Prelude (pages xiv-xv)
President Obama barely knew the biological father who separated from his mother while he was still an infant. In fact, he only saw his dad once ever again, and that was during a brief visit to Hawaii in 1971.
By contrast, his half-brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, was in a far better position to take a measure of the man, given how he had spent his formative years with Barack, Sr. So, it would make sense that Barack might consult his younger sibling while conducting research in Kenya about their dad for a book during the summer of 1988.
When they met, Mark matter-of-factly offered that, “He was a drunk, he beat my mother and us kids.” Nevertheless, Barack would wax romantic about his absentee parent in “Dreams from My Father,” painting a relatively-benign portrait that bears little resemblance to the womanizing, wife-beating alcoholic revealed in Mark’s own new autobiography.
An Obama’s Journey is a jaw-dropping memoir which casts a pall not only over Barack, Sr. but over Barack as well. In it, Mark calls his brother “a stuck-up asshole” and an “arrogant bastard” with a cold demeanor. Perhaps more chilling is his description of a “darker, more insidious presence that was as much a part of him as his DNA.”
That almost demonic side of Barack apparently came to the fore when he lied so cavalierly to the press about Mark, minimizing how long the two had known each other, ostensibly for purely political purposes. Mark felt hurt by this display of callousness reminiscent of how the President had similarly thrown Reverend Wright, the pastor of the church where he’d married and worshipped for 20 years, under the bus when it was expedient for his career to do so.
Lesser character flaws highlighted here include “the faint smell of cigarettes” Mark detected upon meeting the President in Beijing at a time when he supposedly had kicked the habit. He also felt insulted when his brother stuck out a hand rather than hug him at that reunion.
In spite of all of the above, Mark loves his brother dearly. After all, they have far more in common than their differences. Besides the same father, they both come from broken families, have white American mothers, brilliant minds, and attended Ivy League schools.
But I digress. For this tome has a larger purpose, and the trajectory of Mark’s own life is no mere footnote to that of the first African-American President. Rather it is fascinating in its own right, a riveting transcontinental tale of survival, accomplishment, adjustment, transformation and, ultimately, triumph taking the reader from Africa to America to China and back.
Lucky for us, the author happens to be blessed with a refreshingly-unguarded honest and introspective nature which in combination with a wonderful a way with words add up to a must-read regardless of how you feel about his very famous sibling.
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