Which Obama Have You Read?
President Barack Obama (official portrait)

Which Obama Have You Read?

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 26

One of the biggest challenges faced by any autobiography writer is how to reconcile his or her true personality with the public image ascribed to them. Obama is no exception to this rule. On the first day it was released, Obama’s autobiography — titled “A Promised Land” — sold over 800,000 copies. It may very well become the best-selling presidential memoir in modern times. But after reading and re-reading the book in the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to find the “real” Obama in it. I still recall the day that Obama was sworn into office. A man of African and Islamic roots, who grew up in one of the nations most ravaged by racial tensions, rose to become the president of the United States. That day, I did not hide my emotional enthusiasm. Like most people around the world, I saw Obama’s victory as an important step forward not only for America, but for the entire world. Sadly, however, “A Promised Land” is a dry piece of writing, devoid of Obama’s previous style. At about 750 pages long, the memoir fails to portray the real Obama that readers would hope to encounter. Some might accuse me of being biased. I respect that criticism, and have tried to make sure that my opinion of the book is not based on Obama’s failures in the region, which tainted his perception in the eyes of many Middle Easterners, myself included. However, I am determined that the sweeping success of Obama’s book has nothing to do with its political and literary value. Clearly, the fact that the book bears the name “Obama” on its cover is enough to generate millions of sales around the world, as was the case with Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming.” While Mrs. Obama’s book was captivating and revealing — shedding light on her experiences as the first Black first lady, Mr. Obama’s book seems to have fallen short of its stated objective. – Samir Atallah (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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