Book Review: ‘The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family’
Author: Peter Firstbrook
There are days you wish you’d listened closer.
Your grandfather told you many things about his grandfather: how he survived, how he lived, how he relaxed. You wish you had paid attention to what was said, but you were just a kid. Now, you wish you could tell those tales to your own children.
You’re not that interested in your pedigree, but you like knowing where you came from. In the new book “The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family” (c.2010, 2011, Crown, $26.00 / $30.00 Canada, 335 pages, includes extras) by Peter Firstbrook, you’ll learn about the family behind the first family.
On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration more than two years ago, Peter Firstbrook was in Kenya, watching the event on a fuzzy-screened black-and-white television powered by a generator. He had gone there just after the election to research the president’s family and knew there was a “fascinating story to be told.”
President Obama is, like most Americans, of varied heritage. He’s 50 percent English mixed with Welsh, Irish, German, Scottish, and Swiss. And he’s 50 percent African, descended from the Luo of Sudan and Kenya.
Tribal connections are extremely important in Kenya, and the Luo is the third-largest tribe in that country. As a whole, they’re known for their emphasis on education, their easygoing nature, and their generosity. And, Firstbrook says, “they also had a reputation for … talking big and doing very little.”
About 200 years ago, President Obama’s great-great-great grandfather Obong’o was born in the ancestral home in K’ogelo, but when he was about 30 years old, he and his wife left because of family feuding. In his new home on Kendu Bay, Obong’o had three sons: Obama, Aguk, and Opiyo, who would become the great-great grandfather of President Obama.
Opiyo was born during a tumultuous time, when slave trading was widespread and British colonialism was almost ending. Still, he built his own compound, took several wives, and raised his own family, including at least two daughters and three sons. His middle son, Obama, became the President’s great-grandfather.
Obama begat Onyango, who was progressive, eccentric and quite the ladies’ man. He was also aggressive, and “stole” one of his wives, Sarah. She later bore him a son, Barack, who was the father of our President.
“The Obamas” is lively, sweeping, grand, horrifying, and occasionally funny; a historical biography of a continent, a way of life, a people and, somewhere along the way, the leader of the Free World.
Author Firstbrook is a first-rate storyteller, and though President Obama’s lineage can be somewhat confusing, Firstbrook makes it relatively understandable. Though some tales will make you gulp, he also entertains readers with cultural explanations, imaginative scenarios, hypothetical situations, and small anecdotes. I enjoyed that, partly for the way Firstbrook presents the information and partly for its relevance in today’s world, as compared to yesterday’s way of life.
If you’re a “birther,” you won’t find much in this spirited account of one family’s long history. For the curious, or anyone who just loves a great story, though, “The Obamas” deserves a closer look.
Africville, Nova Scotia, Canada, the original Eastern Atlantic settlement of the country, has been internationally famous since the Denise Allen speech at the Non-Governmental Organization portion of the World Conference Against Racism, Intolerance, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Discrimination in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. There, she introduced a large audience to the narrative of the broken promises and violent removal of people from land given to them by the British government back in 1781-82.
For many hours each week, you spend your time running to nowhere—or so it seems.
As often as possible, you do your laps on a treadmill, run-run-running in place while the status of your health does the same: your blood pressure remains sky high. You’re still pre-diabetic. And your friends, surprisingly, are saying the same thing.
How many things can your favorite blanket be?
Count ‘em up: put it over a chair and it becomes a tent. Wrap it around your shoulders and it’s a cape. Pull it over your head and you’re a ghost. Run with it behind you and your blanket becomes wings. Fold it and it’s a mattress; snuggle with it and you feel better on a bad day.
As you grow up, your parents and grandparents have many good ideas for you.
First of all, they want you to remember that you’re a wonderful kid and that they’re happy to see you when you walk into a room. They hope you know that they’re really proud of you and that you’re loved very much.
But as you’ll see in the new book “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” (c.2010, Knopf, $17.99 / $19.99 Canada, 40 pages) by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long, they also have lots of bigger ideas for you, too.
Celebration of life services for Billy G. Ingram, Ph.D., founder and pastor of Maranatha Community Church, will be held on March 19 at 10 a.m.
Ingram, 58, died on March 8 of a heart attack while sleeping. He was taken by paramedics to Kaiser Permanente on Cadillac in Los Angeles where he was declared dead.