REVIEW OF THE BOOK CLUB EVENT
The Book Club feted its 42 nd session with Abhay Vaidya’s review of the first volume of former US President Barack Obama’s magnum opus, A Promised Land, which takes the reader – through its mammoth 768 pages – on a journey through his first presidential term– 2009 to 2013.
The 44 th President of the US, Barack Hussein ll was born in Hawaii of a Kenyan father and an American mother. His parents divorced when he was still a little boy, and his mother remarried, this time to an Indonesian. Obama spent a few years in that country and later returned to Hawaii to be with his grandparents. While there, he even travelled to India and Pakistan to meet his former friends and their families.
Unlike other US Presidents, Barack Obama – who held the highest office at the age of 48 – was not wealthy. His skill as an orator is what catapulted him to fame and leadership – a quality which stood him in good stead when, thirteen days before the current election won by Biden, Obama’s “stunning speech” where he referred to “the loss of American values” became a turning point in the campaign.
He began writing the 27 chapter book a month after leaving office in 2017 and, astonishingly, it was completed and published in the same year. In the eyes of Abhay Vaidya, it is “positive, inspiring and an honest rendering of his (Obama’s) time in office.” Obama, said Vaidya, “wanted to give his readers a sense of what it meant to be President.” At the end of the day, though, it was, in Obama's words, “just another job.”
But it was clearly more than just another job. In every way it was a learning process for the President – from the protocols of the White House to knowing its staff, from adjusting himself to the Oval Office to seeing the ‘Football’ being carried around with him unfailingly whenever he left town. ‘Football’ is name of the largish suitcase that holds the top secret nuclear code – for the President’s Eyes Only.
Obama also wrote about how the American foreign policy changed under his watch: the building of bridges of cooperation and not confrontation in the Middle East, for example, and doing away with the image of America as a bully. In China, he had to be careful about the country’s surveillance system, and so on.
Rich in anecdotes, the book describes Obama’s impressions of Saudi Arabia regarding the Wahhabi sect and the absence of women everywhere.
Interestingly, this Nobel laureate learnt of his award via an early morning phone call when the family was still asleep, and when he told his wife Michelle about it, she rolled her eyes and went back to sleep. At breakfast, his daughters congratulated him but also reminded him that it was their dog’s birthday!
Of the former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Abhay Vaidya informed us that in Barack Obama’s view he was “honest and a thorough professional”, and that they would discuss many issues candidly, even “communal harmony, the caste system, progress and poverty.” However, Rahul Gandhi was, in Obama’s eyes, “smart but not in his element and not ready for politics.”
Vaidya referred to the Osama bin Laden killing by US Navy SEALS in Abbottabad which Barack Obama has described in detail – the planning and the execution; he also brought up the sub-prime crisis, Obamacare as well as other domestic and foreign affairs. For the reviewer, Obama is both “humorous and humane (“kept on a tight leash by his daughters”), both frank and forthright, and writes in a style that is simple and straightforward. He is a man who openly admits his failures.
Mr. Brijnath Safaya
The talk about Barak Obama’s book touched upon all important episodes recorded by the author. My understanding is that Obama’s perspective of American society was influenced largely by the legacy of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Throughout his career, as a student and politician, he strove to improve race relations and the lot of poorer sections of American society, which has a long history of racism. His political philosophy is informed by race harmony, improving the lot of people on the lower rungs of economic ladder. He has mentioned his visits to India when he met various shades of political leaders and found that progress in various fields is stunted by fractious society on account of communal and caste prejudices.