An honest, often poetic memoir about growing up biracial.
Obama was the son of a Kenyan student at the University of Hawaii and a white woman, the daughter of transplanted Kansans. Their marriage broke up after Barack Obama Sr. left Hawaii in 1963 to pursue a doctorate at Harvard; he died in a car accident in Kenya in 1982, when his son was 21. The author met his father only once, when he was ten years old, and this encounter with a stranger did not resolve his emotional confusion about his identity. "I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know what that meant," writes Obama. He turned to books by Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes and to neighborhood basketball courts, where he bonded with older black men. Obama records his interior struggle with precision and clarity as he confronts racism (a high school basketball coach calls a group of black men "niggers") while maintaining love for his white relatives. He turns to drugs and alcohol to dull his confusion, but finally realizes that his identity as a black man in America must be a path he creates for himself. Subsequently, while a student at Columbia University, he learns of his father's death just after they have made plans for him to visit Kenya. The unresolved nature of their relationship gnaws at him even after he moves to Chicago, where he practices civil rights law. A pilgrimage to Kenya to meet siblings from his father's two other marriages finally enables him to put his demons to rest.
At its best, despite an occasional lack of analysis, this affecting study of self-definition perceptively reminds us that the dilemmas of race generally express themselves in terms of individual human struggles.