An Obama about whom we haven’t heard a lot seeks, in the story of his cosmopolitan life, to find himself.
The author is a half brother of the president. Ndesandjo’s mother, Ruth, was the third wife of Barack Obama Sr. Ndesandjo (Nairobi to Shenzhen, 2009) lived with both parents at home in Kenya. Obama Sr., in whom the author saw a “terrible magnificence,” was an abusive womanizer and drunkard. After seven years, Ruth had had enough. She left and wed the solid, caring man whose name the author bears. Peripatetic young Ndesandjo failed to be admitted to Harvard, where his father and brother had excelled, and he struggled with life and studies at Brown and at graduate school at Stanford. There, he was discovered cheating, but he managed a master’s degree in physics, as well as an MBA from Emory. After Emory, it was on to a series of jobs and beautiful women. The author was also quite proficient at the piano, performing publicly. There were difficulties with creditors, though, which finally subsided when Ndesandjo immigrated to China 12 years ago, where he married and studies Chinese and calligraphy. Still, he struggles to come to terms with his mixed racial heritage, noting that he often feels like an outsider. Though not lacking in pride and ambition, how can his considerable talents match the achievements of his brother, the POTUS? They first met decades ago in a fraught encounter; Barack had seemed distant. But Ndesandjo, just around the time of the 2008 presidential campaign, became eager to restore the family connection. The result was a visit to the White House and some family squabbles over access to the president. The author is simultaneously quite accomplished and quite needful of praise. Stressing his sensitivity, he begins each chapter with a favorite evocation of music, from Schumann to Fats Waller.
A deft memoir that, despite the self-indulgent posturing about unique family dynamics, is oddly engaging.