A Singular Woman by Janny Scott

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His dreams may have come from his father, but the will and methodology to make them come true almost certainly came from the intellect and personality of Barack Obama's mother. Stanley Ann Dunham was described in shorthand as "an anthropologist who was born in Kansas" when Obama became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, but she was so much more than that and her influence can be seen in his achievement and personal style even today.

The opening chapters trace the history of Dunham's parents and grandparents, illuminating the thesis that her seemingly unconventional choices were not really so unlike those of her forebears. Barack Obama Sr. is seldom mentioned in the book, befitting a man who left his family when his son was 10 months old, and who would re-enter their lives only once more before his death.

When interviewed, President Barack Obama described a confrontation with his mother during his senior year of high school, when he accused her of treating his life as an experiment. She believed he was special and with the right values, education, and hard work he could become "somebody who was strong and honest and doing worthwhile things for the world." As a teenager, he rejected that possibility, but now, he allows, "Turns out she was actually onto something." But how did she recognize what it would take to make that future a reality?

The majority of the book delves into Dunham's own career development, intellectual life, and love for Indonesia. Interviews with her friends, co-workers, teachers, relatives, and children combine to paint an indelible image of a strong woman who was not afraid to pursue her own dreams and scholarly ambitions, yet opened her heart to many others along the way.

She fought to improve the economic situation of Indonesian women, even as she constantly struggled with her own finances; admired and studied the skills of master metalworkers in villages across that island nation, avidly collecting the art they created; lived unafraid of the social conventions in both eastern and western civilization, while moving easily through both despite never having learned to drive; and mentored countless idealistic expatriates along the way, both in the U.S. and Indonesia.

The book is sprinkled with black and white photos, but suffers from a lack of an index. Interviews, letters, Dunham's copious field notes and assorted background materials combine to draw a vivid portrait of a lively, loving, and strong-willed woman, who ultimately gave her son far more than just dreams. Check catalog for availability.

Submitted by Cathy M.


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This page contains a single entry by Jacki published on September 6, 2011 8:27 AM.

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