By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Barack Obama: The Making of the Man
By David Maraniss (Atlantic, $32.99, softcover, 643 pages)
There is no accurate way to gauge in what way genes, family and environment affect human beings or how they shape their responses to the world around them.
However, David Maraniss considers that a biography can elucidate and distinguish the most lasting and valuable personalities, leanings and ideas of the person.
In Barack Obama, he uses refined sensitivity to encapsulate Obama’s susceptibilities and compassions, communicating the experience of leave-taking, of having a black African father and a white American mother and living with his grandparents.
Maraniss charts the fortunes of the two disparate families, opposites in every way, which produced these two extraordinary individuals, who met briefly in Hawaii, never cohabited and married only to legitimise the child born of that union. At the core of Obama’s psyche and his political beliefs—and hence his presidency—is his life-long struggle to understand the ‘extreme duality of his identity’.
Obama’s early life reveals a repetitive pattern: a sequence of loss and revival.
This multi-generational narrative takes in Kenya and Kansas, moves to Hawaii, Indonesia, Columbia University, explains how Obama entered Occidental College as ‘Barry’ and left as Barack, working in Chicago (where he ‘began to embrace his identity as a black man’) and finishes before he gets a law degree from Harvard and enters politics. There’s then the end of his search for identity and the start of a decisive political career.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, also the biographer of Bill Clinton, Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi, portrays Obama as being careful, with a tendency to be restrained, taking life “in all its colours and contradictions”, looking beyond previous struggle to being unified and steadfast.
Reading this encyclopaedic volume will undoubtedly influence our grasp of the forte, failings and enigmas of the first African-American and 44th President of the United States.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.