The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook
|The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie
|Summary: This rather scholarly, timely and detailed book concentrates on the Obama ancestry. Firstbrook's research goes as far back in time to encapsulate tribal life in Kenya, culminating in the current Obama - who just happens to be the President of the United States.
|Date: July 2010
|Publisher: Preface Publishing
The book jacket states that this is the untold story of an African family and with a presidential photograph of Barack Obama, the book is certainly eye-catching. Along with, I'm sure, millions of others, I've read The Audacity Of Hope and was charmed and blown away in almost equal measure, so I was keen to get started on this book.
And straight away I'm greeted with a two-page spread under the no-nonsense heading The African ancestry of Barack Obama c. 1250 to present. I can tell that I'm in for a detailed read. And I was. Firstbrook states in his Prologue that it's quite clear Barack Obama is very conscious of his mixed heritage. Perhaps to give the reader a sense of drama, Firstbrook gives his take on the election of Obama as President. The author was not part of the Washington DC elite on that momentous day. No, he was in a tiny village in Kenya, in the midst of all that dust, heat and poverty. Hundreds of fingers were crossed as apparently, two television sets had been promised, so that the villagers could celebrate the inauguration of their son. Success. 'The first (tv set) ... arrived balanced precariously on a wheelbarrow. And that bitter-sweet sentence alone sums up succinctly the vast differences and the road travelled by Barack Obama. Stirring stuff.
The reader is then transported back down the centuries as Firstbrook meticulously and painstakingly charts the Obama family line. He packs in lots and lots of facts on almost every page. This is not a book to skim over lightly. A single, seemingly simple sentence can pack a punch, leave you thinking eg: Kenya has always been a nation with strong tribal divisions ... and immediately I was asking myself half a dozen questions - which Firstbrook answers in great depth. All of this is broken up in part by heart-warming quotes from the local people in their local way of speaking.
The reader gets a strong sense of the terrain of the area and of its problems for both people and animals. Migration, seeking water and food are mentioned time and time again. All riveting stuff but I did welcome coming up for air now and again and taking a break. Firstbrook bravely tackles seven centuries (yes, seven) - you could say, from a mud hut to The White House. Strong and emotive material.
Firstbrook stops and takes stock at key points in Kenyan history: eg: British colonialism. But the book covers a whole melting pot of such diverse subject areas as witchcraft, superstitions, circumcision (each of which could easily warrant a whole book on their own).
This is not a book about Barack Obama per se. He's mentioned - yes but only really at the very beginning and at the very end. If he'll forgive me saying so, he's like a pair of (presidential, of course) book-ends. This book is all about his ancestry. It includes a section on his troubled relationship with his father. What the reader gets in this book is the African perspective. Great swathes of the book are given over to the Obama family lives and members (polygamy is the norm so Firstbrook is not short of material).
Some sentences are truly memorable. For example, deep in the vast chapter covering superstitions and rituals within the Luo tribe I find out that ... President Obama would never be allowed to establish his own homestead in Luoland on two accounts: he has only daughters, and he is also left-handed.
Ultimately this book illustrates the colourful, international and varied background of the current US President. For those readers who relish detailed and thoroughly researched material, this book ticks all the boxes. Generally a timely and I would think, welcome addition to the bookshop shelves.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you might like to try The American Future: A History by Simon Schama.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family by Peter Firstbrook at Amazon.com.
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