“Dreams from My Father was not a memoir or an autobiography; it was instead, in multitudinous ways, without any question a work of historical fiction. It featured many true-to-life figures and a bevy of accurately described events that indeed had occurred, but it employed the techniques and literary license of a novel, and its most important composite character was the narrator himself.”
That was Pulitzer Prize winner David Garrow on page 538 of his 1460-page Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, published in 2017. Those who persevered to page 1049 discovered another bombshell. An unidentified reporter says White House staffers are “terrified of people poking around Obama’s life. The whole Obama narrative is built around this narrative that Obama and David Axelrod built, and, like all stories, it’s not entirely true. So they have to be protective of the crown jewels.”
The president’s official biographer thus gave the game away, but three years later it’s a different story.
“Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father, first published in 1995, played an important role in his progress to becoming President of the United States in 2008.” That’s David Garrow in “Obama’s airbrushed dreams,” in the March edition of The Critic, “Britain’s new monthly magazine for politics, ideas, art, literature and more.”
Garrow cites Michiko Kakutani, who wrote in the New York Times that Dreams was “the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president.” In the 2744-word article, Garrow never recalls that he proclaimed the Dreams book a novel. Now it’s both a memoir and autobiography again, and Garrow has come up with original typescript, a kind of Dead Sea Scrolls bristling with details that did not make the final cut.
As Barack departs the Nairobi airport, “his father’s stepmother, Granny Sarah, rushes through to hand him his grandfather’s colonial passbook and the carbon copies of his father’s old application letters to US universities.” This remarkable gesture, “exemplified his Kenyan relatives’ deep desire to draw their impressive American offspring into the family bosom.” And so on.
Dreams from My Father devotes more than 2,000 words to “Frank,” a happy-drunk poet and counselor. In Rising Star, Garrow identified “Frank” as Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party journalist and pornographer. “Davis’ Communist background plus his kinky exploits made him politically radioactive,” wrote Garrow. In the Critic piece, Garrow downgrades Davis to “a one-time communist” and sexual adventurer.
Rising Star ignored Paul Kengor’s The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold story of Barack Obama’s Mentor, published in 2012. Garrow also skirted Joel Gilbert’s 2012 Dreams From My Real Father film, which contended that Davis was Obama’s actual father. In Rising Star, Garrow said Obama would “forcefully reject the Davis hypothesis,” and in the Critic piece Garrow goes after Gilbert and his “outlandish notion,” without covering any of the evidence he produced.
Garrow notes that Gilbert interviewed Malik Obama, son of the Kenyan Barack Obama. Garrow does not recall that Malik said the president did closely resemble Frank Marshall Davis. Malik was even willing to undergo a DNA test, and told Gilbert, “I don’t know how I’d deal with it, if it really came out that he really is a fraud or a con.”
In his Critic piece, anyone less than worshipful of POTUS 44’s official account is a “conspiracy theorist,” and Paul Joseph Watson is a “far right conspiracy theorist.” Garrow deploys the “birther” smear four times, but the issue with Gilbert was not place of birth but the true identity of the father.
Rising Star explains that Barack Obama devoted dozens of hours to reading Garrow’s manuscript and cites his “understandable remaining disagreements – some strong indeed – with multiple characterizations and interpretations.” The former Barry Soetoro cannot have been pleased that Garrow exposed Dreams from My Father as a novel and the author a composite character. Garrow now cites this mysterious original typescript, presumably infallible, but fails to follow up on key details already in the public record.
Barack Obama’s “old application letters to US universities,” dramatically delivered to the Dreams author at the Nairobi Airport, made their way to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. As the New York Times noted, in all his communications from 1958 to 1964, the most crucial period in his life, the Kenyan Barack H. Obama never mentions an American wife and Hawaiian-born son. POTUS 44 never viewed the Kenyan’s collection, which escapes attention in Garrow’s Rising Star.
That book, in turn, gets no mention in The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, released in 2018 by Ben Rhodes who said Dreams from My Father was the “Rosetta Stone” to Obama’s life and claims he re-read it a dozen times. In similar style, Michelle Obama’s 2018 Becoming avoids Rising Star, which contended that Dreams from My Father was “in multitudinous ways, without any question” a novel and the author a composite character.
Back in 1995, those realities were visible to any reader of Dreams, which speaks of a “useful fiction” and deploys the Kenyan as a “prop in someone else’s narrative.” Coming from David Garrow, esteemed author of Bearing the Cross and The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., the novel revelation was a stunner. After all, the composite character had been president of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, for eight years.
It is as though Hugh Gregory Gallagher, author of FDR’s Splendid Deception, suddenly claimed that president Roosevelt made no effort to conceal his disability from the public. That would be a bombshell, and so is the notion that Dreams from My Father is once again an acclaimed memoir and authentic autobiography.
David Garrow does not explain what could account for such a complete transformation. On the other hand, it is certainly possible to guess.
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