Less an autobiography than a collection of scenes, reflections, and observations, “Dreams” explores the experience of growing up African American. Like a triptych, this memoir presents three views of a single subject — the search for identity. Sections one and three, titled “Origins” and “Kenya,” both paint family portraits and focus on key moments in the transition from childhood to maturity.
Highly literary in style, the story depicts Obama’s upbringing in a multi-ethnic, multi-national, nurturing family with a strong-willed mother who meted out traditional values and three sympathetic male role models: a well-intentioned but eccentric maternal grandfather, a protective Indonesian step-father, and the Kenyan father he barely knew who captured both his heart and his imagination. Obama writes movingly about his sense of abandonment and loss which culminated in a spiritual pilgrimage when as a young man he traveled to Kenya to meet relatives, visit his father’s grave, and embrace his full identity.
Tucked between these two intimate, almost poetic portraits comes “Chicago,” covering Obama’s years between college and graduate school, a sharp break in content and tone that chronicles his work as a community organizer. Only here will the reader catch a glimpse of the politician he would later become.