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The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother

by Janny Scott

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59448-797-2
Publisher: Riverhead

A richly nuanced, decidedly sympathetic portrait of President Obama’s remarkably accomplished, spirited mother.

Actually, the story of Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro, who died of cancer in 1995, has been told at length, especially during the 2008 presidential campaign. But former New York Times reporter Scott does not believe that the treatment Obama’s mother garnered in the press was fair or complete. The author conducted exhaustive interviews with family and friends to try to flesh out the biography, especially regarding her years working in Indonesia, trying to finish her doctorate degree and deciding to send back her young son, then 10, to Hawaii. There he attended a prep school in the care of her parents, a decision for which she was roundly criticized by the press. Kansas-born Stanley Ann—named after her father, though her mother was enamored by the Bette Davis character named Stanley in the 1942 film In This Our Life—early on set herself apart by her intellectual curiosity, wit and openness to new adventures. When her parents relocated to the new state of Hawaii upon her graduation in 1960, she became simply Ann, and immersed herself in the nascent East-West Center, where she would fall in love with the Kenyan student Barack Hussein Obama. He was 24 and married to a woman back in Kenya; she was 17 and soon pregnant; though they married quietly, they separated soon after. Ann’s resilience and dogged spirit emerge continuously throughout her story. She struggled to gain her degrees while raising first “Barry,” then her daughter, Maya, by her second husband, the Javanese surveyor Lolo Soetoro, all the while moving frequently to do fieldwork on Indonesian cottage industries. Her work in far-flung community outreach and microfinance gained her jobs at the Ford Foundation and the Women’s World Banking, in New York City, and greatly inspired her son in his own political activism.

A biography of considerable depth and understanding.