I have never really given non-fiction a chance. I like a story, characters, suspense, and a surprise ending. Thinking that I would never find that in a NF book I sat happy and content reading fiction, fiction, fiction, never truly realising that some of the worlds greatest tales, best romances, favourite characters and most surprising of endings come from real life.
The end of 2011 saw me pick up a NF book and read it for pleasure and not for study.
In fact I read 2!
1. Barack Obama- Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
This autobiographical novel informs the reader of Obama’s early life up until his entrance into Harvard Law School. Not knowing much about American politics I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I was surprised to find it a powerful story, beautifully told with Obama telling the story of a young man trying to deal with the reality of living with his divided family history – his mother a white American woman and his father from Kenya. This is a story of Obama ‘finding himself’. That is of course an overused phrase, most people looking to find themselves are probably just looking for an opportunity to act silly, but Obama truly does find himself, and in so doing understands race relations in the US from a unique perspective.
Obama does in fact have a lot to find. His father left when he was just 2. He only ever saw him once more before he received a phone call informing him of his death. With this lack of both a father figure and black figure in his life he was brought up by his white mother and grandparents . This lead to Obama never felt legitimately black but yet his skin colour ensures that he could never be seen as anything else.
The story takes the reader and Obama to Kansas, Indonesia, Hawaii, and Chicago before we all go to Kenya to visit his father’s side of the family before he starts Law School. This is the most powerful and moving part of the book. Here Obama learns about his family and a way of life that he has never known but has always in a way felt connected to.
In the introduction, Obama writes that looking back on this book after the passage of over a decade, he winces at inelegant phrasing, and wishes that he could excise perhaps fifty of its four hundred and fifty pages. That’s the kind of self-critique with which this book abounds—honest and very deliberately even-handed
I believe that Obama writes with grace and with a natural ease. A master at making his reader feel relaxed.
Bravo Mr Obama.
“While we breathe, we will hope.”
2. Patti Smith- Just Kids
It is the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe but it is also a fulfilment of a promise that Smith made to Mapplethorpe just before he died (in 1989 from AIDS): that she would tell their story to the world. It is a touching tribute to their love as well as an incisive account of being young, ambitious and artistic in Seventies New York. It is clear from Smith’s mystically delicate crafting of this book that she is a true artist and that their special friendship is much-loved and inspired many moments throughout her career.
Smith and Mapplethorpe’s journey is like no other, but the general ideas of love and friendship cannot be missed.Smith speaks a humble language and she always remains calm and brave. It is the tale of a man who molded and changed her life forever.
I could go on and on with a review for this book but I fear I would never do it justice. So I will leave you with the words of Patti Smith.
“We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world.”