Book review: A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Delivering on some promises
So, there are two ways to read Barack Obama`s eagerly awaited memoir. One as a political text, detailing the journey of the 44th president of the United States, from Harvard Law School grad to Chicago lawyer to Illinois senator thrice, to POTUS twice. An account of what he wanted to do for his country and what he managed to do, in the teeth of overt hostility from the Republicans and covert resistance from people in his own Democratic party. A record of his successes, his failures, all nimbly packaged and presented to the reader.
The second way to read the book would be to put it under the personal microscope, to read the remarkable journey of a man who, born of a white mother and a black father, wasn’t rich but was equipped with a sharp mind, and put those smarts to full use; how he climbed every rung on the many ladders he saw before him, finally reaching the front door of the country`s First Residence. That story, too, makes for an absorbing read.
Whichever way you look at it, Barack Obama`s A Promised Land is a good read, all 697 pages of the text, with an interesting collection of photographs tucked away at the end of the tome. The point is, Obama is one heck of a writer, as his earlier bestselling book Dreams From My Father, will testify.
Written in a very reader-friendly style, the prose practically soars when he writes of Michelle and their marriage; of his daughters Malia and Sasha and the pleasures that parenting brings; the warm memories of his maternal grandparents who were both support and succour to him; the loving but clear-eyed recollections of the indomitable woman who was his mother; when he tips a grateful hat to his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson who came to live with them in the White House and helped them bring up the girls in that rarefied atmosphere.
This is a man who was alert and aware at every step in his life, who was grateful for all the good things he had going for him and seemingly resigned to the less than pleasant things he had to face. Either Obama possesses a genuinely calm personality or chooses to portray himself as pragmatic, because the picture that emerges is of someone who keeps a control on himself and lets go of matters beyond his control.
His intelligence shines through every line, as does the fact that he is basically a decent, family-loving American who still holds a roseate view of America.
Our newspapers have already carried practically all the excerpts pertaining to Obama`s impressions of the country, it`s then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh (“I would find Singh to be wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest“), and his assessment of India (“Despite its genuine economic progress, India remained a chaotic and impoverished place: largely divided by religion and caste, captive to the whims of corrupt local officials and powerbrokers, hamstrung by a parochial bureaucracy that was resistant to change.`)
He is equally clear about Pakistan when he says: “Not only did the Pakistan military (and in particular its intelligence arm, ISI) tolerate the presence of Taliban headquarters….it was also quietly assisting the Taliban as a means of keeping the Afghan government weak and hedging against Kabul`s potential alignment with Pakistan`s archrival, India.“
His pragmatism comes to the fore again, in his take on Donald Trump. “Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain more purchase with each passing day. The same reporters who laughed at my jokes would continue to give him airtime. Their publishers would vie to have him sit at their tables. Far from being ostracized for the conspiracies he`d peddled, he, in fact, had never been bigger.“
This being only the first part of a two-part memoir, Obama has well and truly whetted our appetites for the concluding part.
This ran in THE NEW SUNDAY EXPRESS Magazine of 17 Jan 2021.