‘American story’ faces fresh scrutiny
When he first took the national stage, with his electrifying keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2004, Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, briefly summarized his unusual life story, with its biracial themes and trans-continental setting. “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story,” he said, adding: “In no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
That story, of course, would become even more astonishing, and profoundly American, four years later, when its teller would be elected president of the United States. But the first time Obama related his life story — and in the greatest detail — was with the publication of his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
The book, which won wide critical acclaim and rose to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, recounted the complex tale that is by now familiar to most Americans: the young Obama’s racial confusion as the son of a white mother from Kansas and a dark-skinned, absentee father from Kenya; his mother’s remarriage to, and eventual split from, the boy’s Indonesian stepfather, with a spell in a Muslim school in Jakarta; the boy’s rearing by white grandparents in Hawaii, who sent him to a private school there; his journeys through Occidental College and Columbia University, marked by a shifting intellectual worldview and numerous romances, some of them inter-racial; his path-breaking stint as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review; and his exploits as a community organizer and Chicago lawyer with a deepening interest in politics.