Obama's Voices

DFF2EB92-779F-43C4-9567-E1C48E25CCEB.jpgI've been listening to the audiobook, Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, which has the additional benefit of being read by the author. Obama's baritone has become a familiar voice in my head. What might surprise some people, beyond Obama's ability as a writer and storyteller, is that each of his characters becomes a distinct voice that he brings alive, not just in his writing but even more so in this audiobook. They come alive for us because they are so alive to him.

Each person's unique voice -- from the lyrical African-English of his father or half-sister Auma, from his independent-minded and concerned mother to the voice of the South-side of Chicago's preachers, political organizers and young black men on the street, to his Kansas-bred grandparents and his Indonesian stepfather -- these are people that Obama carries with him. These aren't stock characters like Joe-the-plumber or Joe-Six-Pack. They aren't the subjects of morality tales like the historical characters in Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage." They are complex characters with hardships and conflicts, plagued by self-doubt and inspired by high ideals. They cuss and they cry.

I am so grateful that our democracy has elected a leader who can write like this, think and feel so deeply, with great subtlety and sympathy, and who will bring with him to the White House such a new assortment of interesting people -- not in his Cabinet but in his head.


  1. I’ve been a very long boingboing reader, but finally registered to comment. Shame on me!

    I wanted say that I also just finished listening to our President-Elect read the book he wrote about his life, and there’s no real way to wrap my head around it. Somehow we were able to elect a man like this, who is a real, compassionate, flawed, wise, self reflective, intelligent, humorous, and compassionate human being. Somehow, someone like that actually wanted to be President.

  2. As a limey, following these changes second hand, I really want to listen to this. As MAXSINDELL said; on all evidence so far, to go from Bush the clown prince to Obama, a literate and thoughtful man, is truly stunning. And a well read story is worth a good deal. Count me in.

  3. I hope that the election of somebody like Obama means that America will finally become the nation it always wanted to be. His election is, frankly, the perfect opposite of the Kennedy assassination. The inexplicable, dark tragedy of that event for the office of president has now been balanced by an equally inexplicable, but shining hope.

    And that’s what worries me. Still, at least I’m a little less worried than I was during the election about whether Sara Palin would get in. Now, that WAS stressful.

  4. He’s been getting a lot of youtube crap over some of the very honest things he’s said about his experience in youth and young adulthood.

    People don’t seem to realize that you can’t talk about racial healing without examining the festering wound that race relations had become by the time he was born.

  5. I’ll have to agree with the first gutted post with how you voice this review, even if it’s crude.

    I mean, come on.

    He’s like every other previous president we had. He makes promises, gives opinions (even if he can’t make up his minds on them), and goes about with a smile on his face. The only difference is that he’s black, and color shouldn’t be a big determining factor in being a president.

    McCain did a lot of amazing stuff too, he also did a lot of things he is and shouldn’t be proud of. This is no different with Obama.

    Like how he became a senator. He got all the other people off the ballet by getting them discharged by slight technicalities. That says to me he felt he couldn’t take them head-on. And that not only is he a sheisty character but a man with no honor.

    And if story writing is considered a great way to determine a president, than Neil Gaiman should be our next president.

  6. I think what makes him different from “any other president” is that he knows more of the world – he has lived in different places, with people from different cultures, for once, and that’s what a lot of this book is about.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll automatically be a better/different kind of president, of course.

  7. I agree it’s an amazing book. Listening to it these days to and from work. It is a book which gives one a deep understanding of the problems of race and identity in America, yet it is highly entertaining and carries a light, perceptive tone, excellently written. It is emotionally insightful and disturbing, and it gives one a great understanding of the background and motifs of the man who’s now going to possess the most powerful job in the world.

  8. #9: Nope. Dale’s not said anything about Obama’s character besides his ability to write and narrate a story.

    If you’re really eager to demonstrate that McCain can write and speak the way Obama can, you should link an example of literary audio work that he has produced which is of equivalent quality. Any other comparison or criticism is irrelevant to the post.

    And to address your single on-topic criticism:

    “And if story writing is considered a great way to determine a president, than Neil Gaiman should be our next president.”

    You are saying that Dale is saying that story writing should be the only way of electing a president; Dale has suggested that it is a good skill for a president to possess. The two are not equivalent.


    I don’t think anyone is losing sight of the fact that Obama is still a politician, and a lawyer to boot. I definitely have a healthy scepticism and will be watching with interest how he handles office and what policy change does come out of his administration. The difference here as other commentors have said, is that he appears to be a much more rounded individual.

    He has a story, one that echoes large numbers of the populace. The fact that he is educated and literate enough to write a book that has been reviewed so positively can only be a good thing. It shows that he can think, and more importantly that he has thought already.

    To know that you have a thinking man as a leader has got to be worth something, surely?

    Also, if Neal Gaiman ran for office, I would be the most voting man in the whole world evar!

  10. And now that I’m done grumbling, I can say the following: One of the reasons that I’ve been very hopeful about Obama’s presidency has been that the man can talk, and write, and obviously possesses some level of intelligence.

    Maybe the decency and humility he displays is just for show, as for any other politician, but it is abundantly clear that he has the ability, far above and beyond that of the average politician, to speak. He will need to do a lot of that over the next few years, both to his own citizens as he tries to mend the country’s many ills as well as to foreign heads of state and dignitaries as he tries to mend the country’s reputation internationally.

  11. I have no too great expectations of Mr. Obama. Just that he will do better than George W. **** Jr. Now that can’t be too much to hope for.

  12. I would not want another President with whom I could share a beer or smoke a joint. I want a President who is a lot smarter than me, and now we have one!

    Barack Obama’s speech and prose are a positive change from the dissembling babble to which we’ve been exposed for the last eight years.

  13. I’m counting on his intelligence and sense of history, both past and future. I believe he understands and appreciates the fact that billions of people have invested in his presidency what for many may be their last bit of hope. I believe he understands what it means to so many people here in the U.S. and abroad, to be the first man of color to occupy the White House. If he wants to represent his father’s family, he cannot afford to be an old boy in young man’s clothing. He cannot afford a dishonest failure; meaning, if he fails, he must be able to explain to his ancestors and those living today, as well as those who will learn of him tomorrow, why he failed. He must be able to say, with all honesty, that he did his best in an impossible situation.

    The incredibly sad part, is there are millions of people in this country who have been fed a steady diet of fear. They do not trust him, some even believe him to be the anti-christ, and will do everything they can to make sure he fails. The very things that give us hope scare them. The fact that all around the world people were dancing in the streets when he was declared the President-elect only serves to confirm their fear. Instead of seeing a unique opportunity, they see a threat.

  14. Do you guys really believe he wrote it himself? He has no other literary trail: no thesis, no law school articles, nothing. And then he writes a an admittedly well written book, first thing out of the box. Even Mark Twain didn’t do that. C’mon. Don’t insult my intelligence. It is abundantly clear Obama had a ghostwriter.

  15. TOMMYC,

    If I’m not insulting your intelligence too much, do you have even a hint of a shred of evidence for your “abundantly clear” libel?

  16. Platypus:

    Editing isn’t writing. I could know a thing or two about nuclear physics from a course in college, but I can’t build a nuclear reactor.

    Writing is a creative exercise while editing is not. The ranks of editors who can’t write is legion.

  17. Arkizzle says Rowling’s, um, saga began as a first-shot effort. I’ve heard that before, and it might even be true.

    Do any others come to mind?

    1. Unless you count translations, The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first published work. Eternal gratitude to Rayner Unwin. Publishers should hire more ten year-olds.

  18. On another note, is anyone else a bit bothered by the possibility of his books selling in shedloads over the holiday season, thereby earning him millions he would not have made if he had not won the election?

    I feel the only decent thing to do at this point is for him to publicly declare that he will forfeit all earnings from his books from the point he won the election to when he leaves office.

  19. It’s not like Obama’s a felon convicted of a horrendous crime, and thus barred from turning a profit on his biography. He isn’t the President yet; give him some time.

  20. “I have no too great expectations of Mr. Obama. Just that he will do better than George W. **** Jr. Now that can’t be too much to hope for.”

    If that bar was any lower it would be magma.

  21. Capote was widely published before “In Cold Blood.” That was the book that made him rich and famous. And killed his talent.

  22. I’m a lot less concerned with what the voices sound like than what they have to say on topics like peak oil and the crashing ponzi scam we call a monetary system. It could sound like Pazuzu for all I care.

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