FROM sfgate.com

‘Homeland,’ by George Obama

MemoirJanuary 17, 2010
By G. Pascal Zachary, Special to The Chronicle

The main reason to read a book by a man named Obama who is not the president of the United States is simple: to understand better the Obama who is president. With this as a test, does a new memoir from a Kenyan half brother to our very own Barack Obama – an African resident of Nairobi who shares our president’s surname and his long-deceased father but not his mother – shed any light on President Obama as a leader?

Now, let’s remember that one of the enduring riddles about Barack Obama is his relationship to Africa. After all, he never lived in Africa – and never visited until an adult and then only briefly on a journey to Kenya, his father’s country. Yet as he demonstrated in his classic memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” his tie to Africa is crucial to his self-definition. Raised by a white American mother and her Midwestern extended family, and a graduate of a Hawaii high school, Obama is not content to describe himself as merely an American and certainly not as a creolized, mixed-race American. His blood tie to Africa is decisive for establishing the veracity of his “black,” or African American identity because, after all, his father was a black African and a Kenyan intellectual.

Since becoming president, Obama has curiously avoided the subject of Africa save for a brief visit to Ghana, where he and his family visited a slave castle. While Obama has plenty of urgent demands on his attention – the economic crisis, health care, the Afghan war – he seems to be going out of his way to diminish any expectations – and hopes are sky high among Africans – that he will favor his “fatherland.” Indeed, many Kenyans even hope to benefit materially from Obama’s power and fame. One of these appears to be the author George Obama, who admits he writes in response to his half brother’s election, seeing a chance to gain “a platform” and a means to raise money for admirable social-welfare projects he directs in Nairobi’s slums.

777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777\\FROM alaskadispatch.com
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January 6, 2011

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Review: George Obama’s ‘Homeland’

Steve Weinberg
The Christian Science Monitor
Jan 23, 2010

George Obama has, by choice, lived much of his 28 years in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. His older brother by 21 years is currently president of the United States.

Barack Obama has never lived in a Kenyan slum. The two men, however, share a father, Barack Obama Sr. He died before George turned 1 year old. But his paternity, obviously, links the half brothers. Barack Jr. and George have met face to face only twice — when George was a 5-year-old schoolboy, and when Barack Jr. was serving in the US Senate before ascending to the White House.

The blood relationship between George and Barack Jr. seems at first like a thin reason for Homeland, a nearly 300-page memoir by a man who has not reached age 30. A potential reader would certainly remain inside the realm of logic by supposing George has published a book simply to capitalize financially on his brother’s becoming US president.

It turns out, however, that the memoir, written with assistance from journalist Damien Lewis, is worthy for lots of reasons. The blood relationship with Barack is way down on the list of those reasons. The memoir stands on its own nicely as a coming-of-age story set in an African nation.

Naturally, George Obama dwells on becoming fatherless before his first birthday. Barack Sr. was an educated man who, as a civil servant, tried to alleviate government corruption throughout Kenya; he wanted food, housing, and other amenities of life to reach the poor before being siphoned off.

Because of his father’s legacy, George Obama grew up comfortably with a resourceful mother. During childhood, George welcomed a new “father” into the household, a French human aid worker named Christian who had been posted to Kenya. A white male rarely cohabited with a black female in Kenya, but Christian challenged the status quo. George adored him. George also adored a brother named Marvin who entered his life about the same time as Christian.

Tall, athletic, and intelligent, George lived far better than the typical Kenyan. He dreamed of becoming a commercial airline pilot. So his parents did their utmost to place George in the best schools, hoping the preparation would pay off with a college degree (available only to a select percentage of Kenyan schoolchildren) and an offer to fly for an international airline.

Despite his privileged life, George faced expulsion from expensive private schools more than once. His delinquencies included fighting, stealing, and lying.

When George was 15, Christian walked out. He did not say goodbye to George, at least according to George’s recollection. Feeling betrayed and angry, George increasingly turned to a life of crime. As a thug from the slums, George joined a gang, provoked dangerous fights with rival gangs, robbed businessmen and tourists, and generally kicked away the opportunities offered to him by a first-class education and a lucrative career.

George’s mother tried to control him, but failed, despite her loving nature. His aunt, the sister of Barack Obama Sr., lived a marginal existence in the Nairobi slums, but never lost her family pride or her insistence that George return to school. George admired and listened to his aunt, but returned to his criminal ways over and over.

Eventually, George and three of his thug buddies ended up in a Kenyan prison. The pages describing the prison violence and filth are graphic and difficult to stomach. George vowed never to return to prison.

Today, George Obama says he is devoting his considerable intelligence to improving life in the Nairobi slums. The president of the United States apparently is not helping in significant material ways. His example of great achievement, however, is a guiding light for his younger half brother.

The book is marred by the lack of sourcing, coupled with George Obama’s near-miraculous recall of conversations and events from his childhood, adolescence, and early manhood. In an “Author’s Note” he says “without doubt my memory is fallible.” But George Obama never explains when and in what ways his memory might have yielded uncertainty or downright inaccuracy.

By living in an urban slum, George Obama is able to keep his memory clear about how it feels, and felt remembrances contain value of their own. He says one-sixth of the world’s population consists of slum dwellers. If that percentage is ever to decrease, George Obama might lead the way, based on his searing personal experiences, with brother Barack providing backup through his position, which allows his words and example to touch the lives of poor and rich alike.

Steve Weinberg is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He lives in Columbia, Mo.

This review originally appeared in the January 20, 2010 edition of The Christian Science Monitor and is republished here with permission.

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