July 27, 2011

Our Story

When Ari asked me to read Obama’s book, I hesitantly bought and read Audacity of Hope. It is a lukewarm campaign book, that I actually enjoyed. It is political in nature and written on a level I could understand and appreciate. Although tinted with a personal varnish, it is still a manifesto of sorts, written by a politician climbing a power ladder. It is a face. A poster. Barely authentic. Likable. American.

After I proudly told Ari, that I had read Audacity of Hope, he curtly responded, “Oh really? That was the wrong book. I actually meant that you must read Dreams of My Father.”

I did. He was right. Now I am asking you to please read it too. While Audacity of Hope is a political soul-search of sorts, Dreams of My Father is a search of a different kind. It is the story not of a president, but of a man in search of himself. It is the story of us all. It is the story of our families and the disappointing skeletons we have dressed as ancestral heroes. It is the story of race, nation, and identity. It is the story of humanity.

Written before Obama was a Senator, the book is rough and raw and honest. Beautifully written, it reads like novel full of complex characters and plot twists. Forget everything you think you know about Obama. Forget he is even the president and read this book like you would a work of fiction. No matter your thoughts on Obama the politician, this book is a must read. That is the end of my formal review. The end of my request that you read the book.

I want to spend the next few paragraphs dancing with my own thoughts on one of the themes I found the most compelling: Identity.
I had been forced to look inside myself and had found only a great emptiness there.
As a Third Culture Kid, I have spent way too much time trying to find a balance with my hyphen. Iranian-American? Sounds like an oxymoron. Could there be more opposing forces. As a child, newly arrived in the USA in the 1980’s, I felt like a bizarrely sculpted Siamese-twin-- born of two enemies. I spent so much energy defending both sides from each other. I defended Iran from my friends and American from my parents. The pressure of animosity from American culture was compounding: angry-muslim-terrorists? Really? My grandmother is the kindest person I know. Our music is sensual. Our poetry ancient. Our cuisine complex. On the other side, Americans: fat-stupid-lazy-imperialist. Really? Berkley seems petty cool. Have you heard of Bob Dylan? I never knew who to be. It is only recently that I have erased not only the hyphen but the twins as well. You can have American, Iranian all of it.
The constant, crippling fear that I didn’t belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn’t I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.
Obama also struggled with a murky identity. Born to a white American woman and a Kenyan father, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, Obama spent much of his youth trying to first find out who he was, later to shape that identity.  The irony is that he has very little connection to the African-American community of which he has somehow been painted the symbol.

As Obama, true for me too I suppose, tried to create his identity, he repeatedly grasped for a variety of romantic ropes, lose ends really. First, he created the myth of his father, his grandfather, his tribe, his continent. Everything that was out of reach seemed to be what he needed to complete himself. Every time he leaned on some romantic vision of the very thing that he felt would complete him, he would begin to understand that his father, his grandfather and even Africa were flawed and broken. Just as he was. He is. I am. You are.
A circle was beginning to close, so that I might finally recognize myself as I was, now, in one place.
There is much more to say about this book, but I have seemed to hit a dead end tonight.  I have written enough about Obama lately, so I will close by saying that this book has touched me in a way that few books have. It is an important story that needs to be shared, as it is our story. It is the story of a melding of worlds. It is the story of global citizens and cultural blends. It is the story of our new world.

No comments:

Post a Comment