Book Review: ‘A Promised Land’

By Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 4 2021
Focus Book Review: ‘A Promised Land’

By Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan

In the first few pages of Barack Obama’s latest book – ‘A Promised Land’ – he takes us back to his past and you slowly come to know his odyssey from youth to the presidency. The book describes in detail his political education and the landmark moments of his first term as President of the United States. In the first chapter he writes briefly about his parents. He says, “I don’t come from a political family. My mother Anne Dunham was full of strong opinions and the world was full of opportunities. But I never knew her to get involved in a political campaign. Like my grandparents, she was suspicious of platforms, doctrines, absolutes, preferring to express her values on a smaller canvas.”

Obama sincerely describes his father. “Since I did not know my father, he didn’t have much input. I vaguely understand that he had worked for the Kenyan Government for a time, and when I was ten, he travelled from Kenya to stay with us for a month in Honolulu. That was the first and last I saw of him.”

Obama’s mother was a mid-westerner from a Scots-Irish stock and father a Kenyan African. In chapter 2 he again travels back in time and narrates about his first meeting with Michelle, his future wife. “Michelle Lavaughan Robinson was already practicing law when we met. She was 25 and an associate at Sidley & Austin. I worked the summer after my first year of Law School at a Chicago-based firm. She was tall, beautiful, funny, outgoing, generous and wickedly smart – and I was smitten almost from the second I saw her.” 

“She had been assigned by the firm to look out for me, to make sure I knew where the office photocopier was and that I generally felt welcome. That also meant we got to go out lunches together, which allowed us to sit and talk – at first about our jobs and eventually about everything else.”

Struggles 

Throughout the book Obama describes the struggles and the trauma he endured to become a senator of Illinois and later to become the President of the United States. Obama’s election to the US Senate in 2004 is one of the most interesting and colourful political campaigns in recent history. His rousing keynote address at the Democratic National Convention held in the same year made his name a household word. In his memoir he explores the role of money, political parties, ethnicity, religion and the issues facing society. Obama’s straightforward policy of recommendations, message of hope and inclusion and his charismatic style propelled him to the highest office in the United States. His marvellous way of handling the media, ability to raise funds and to address the concerns of multiple constituencies and his appeal to a coalition of parties transcended race, class and gender. 

In chapter 2 titled ‘Yes we can’ Obama writes about how a news clip that was telecast could have jeopardised his campaign for presidency. He says, “It had been more than a year since I had given much thought to my Pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On 13 March, we woke up to discover that ABC News had compiled a series of short clips culled from several years of his sermons, skillfully packaged to fit a two-minute segment on ‘Good Morning America.’ There was Rev. Wright saying “No God bless America, God damn America.” There was Rev. Wright, in living colour, explaining how the tragedy of 9/11 might in part be explained by our record of military interventions and wanton violence overseas, a matter of ‘America’s chickens … coming home to roost.’

“The video offered no context or history. In fact, it could not have portrayed black radicalism more vividly, or provided a more surgical tool to offend middle America. Within hours of its initial broadcast, the video was running everywhere. Inside my campaign I felt as if a torpedo had blown through our hull.” 

Media blitz 

Obama goes on to say how he and his team were able to minimize the damage to the campaign by skillfully handling the media. He knew that such a media blitz could scare away competition, or at least warn others that this was going to be an expensive campaign. Obama, in his autobiography – ‘Dreams from My Father’ – describes how he struggled with his racial identity throughout his high school years, living with a white mother and grandparents and attending a predominantly white school. He found it difficult to navigate between black and white worlds. His struggle with issues of identity got him involved in political activity. 

Obama takes a closer look at his message both in his campaigns and in office. He focused particularly on how he could conceive the American dream, his efforts to uplift politics and political rhetoric, and his post partisan political stance. He reflects on the presidency, its awesome reach and limits of power. He also writes on Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Presidential Election. “After Michelle and I had boarded Air Force One for the last time and travelled west for a long-deferred break, the mood on the plane was bitter sweet. Both of us were drained, physically and emotionally, not only by the labours of the previous eight years but also by the unexpected results of an election in which someone diametrically opposed to everything we stood for had been chosen as my successor.”

American dream 

Obama gives a new meaning to the American dream in his memoir. In order to have an in-depth knowledge about his foreign policy and its impact on foreign countries, we have to wait for the second part of this book. Obama has shown outstanding ability to tell his story which will become a good read. By writing his memoir in two parts, Obama has embarked on a fascinating yet a daunting task. In recent times the change in electoral politics has come to the US with a bewildering speed in the post-Obama era. However, this aspect of the change in the midst of continuity has not been fully appreciated by the outside world. Obama has also looked at the United States’ relationship with Britain, Russia, European Union, China, India and the rest of the world. He also examines the ways in which the US can enter the future in triumph rather than disaster. To endeavour to understand and describe the US of tomorrow would be the task of a brave leader. Obama has left a moving testament of hope to the country he loves.

The author has shown outstanding skills to tell his story which will remain a good read. Barack Obama goes down in history as the first black American President of the United States. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. 

By Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 4 2021

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