THE OBAMAS by Peter Firstbrook


The Untold Story of an African Family
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Multigenerational history of the president’s African ancestors.

Former BBC documentary director and producer Firstbrook (Surviving the Iron Age, 2003, etc.) takes care to note that Barack Obama is, of course, of mixed ethnic ancestry, “about 37 percent English, with additional contributions from German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and Swiss forebears.” Even so, he adds, the Luo people who claim the president as their own do not consider him in any way white. He is instead both a “near demigod” and—fodder for right-wing critics, no doubt—might as well be the president of Kenya as well as of the United States, so highly esteemed is he there. Obama has written sensitively and well of his search for his African roots, since his father was absent from his life. Firstbrook brings some news to his account by suggesting that Obama senior may not have died accidentally, though his death in 1982 was ruled an accident while driving drunk. He notes that many Luo dissidents—Obama senior was an outspoken critic of the government—have been assassinated over the years. The author announces three aims: to trace the story of the Obama family as far back as possible; to chronicle the Luo’s forced migration from southern Sudan to Kenya; and to describe the transformation of Kenya from British colony to independent nation. In each of these, he does yeoman work, painting a vivid portrait of Luo village life. He falls clearly on the side of nature in the nature/nurture debate, too, which finds him sometimes trending into difficult, un-PC territory: “Barack junior is a very different man from either his father or his grandfather, but certain family characteristics seem to flow from his African bloodline; intelligence, resourcefulness, motivation, and ambition can all be traced back several generations.”

Firstbrook’s account complements Obama’s own, though it is of much more limited appeal.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59140-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2010


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