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A Memoir

by Auma Obama translated by Ross Benjamin

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-01005-6
Publisher: St. Martin's

A burnished look at a difficult, ruptured childhood in Kenya by the president’s half sister, older by one year.

Unlike David Maraniss’ comprehensive biography of the president (Barack Obama: The Story, 2012), which does not sugarcoat the problematic father the president and Auma shared, this delicate, emotional work sidesteps the patriarch in order to portray a young woman deeply resentful of the sexist treatment of women in her Luo culture and determined to forge her own identity. Auma is the daughter of Barack Obama Sr.’s first wife, Kezia, who was essentially abandoned pregnant with Auma at the family compound while her husband pursued a scholarship program at the University of Hawaii. Much happened while her father went on to graduate studies in economics at Harvard, namely his marriage to Stanley Ann Dunham and the birth of Barack Obama Jr., divorce and remarriage to another young white American woman, Ruth Baker, who then followed Barack back to Nairobi and became the third wife and awkward stepmother to Auma and her older brother, Abongo. Deprived of her biological mother, Auma found in the rigors and routine of her schools a reprieve from a bleak home life that comprised an “oppressive emptiness” resulting from her father’s eventual divorce from Ruth. Her father’s demise, caused by the loss of a government finance job and debilitating car accidents (Auma blames them on political intrigue, Maraniss on his drinking), strained her relationship with him to such an extent that she did not seek his permission to travel as an exchange student in Germany. Auma became a proficient student of German, and her meeting with her brother Barack in Chicago in 1984 marks the brightest moment in this eager-to-please work. The meeting paved the way for his subsequent trips to Kenya and warmly unfolding relationship with his African family.

Another treatment of the extended Obama family that enlightens and deepens the public’s understanding of the president.