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Sweet blog special: Obama launches book clubs in N.H. Assignment: Read Obama's memoir.

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WASHINGTON--In an innovative move, the New Hampshire campaign of White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is organizing book clubs--with the reading assignment his own memoir, Dreams of My Father, --to boost the candidate in the first primary state.

The book clubs kicked off Tuesday in a dozen cities in New Hampshire, with a set-up press conference held last week featuring Michael Kruglik, one of the community organizers who worked with Obama on the Southeast Side of Chicago in the 1980s.

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The point of the exercise, said New Hampshire Obama press secretary Reid Cherlin in a phone interview, is to "present" Obama to voters who may not know him. So far, there is no plan to duplicate the clubs in Iowa, the state with the leadoff presidential vote.

The book club drive is dubbed "From Doubt to Hope/Discover Barack in his own words." The campaign is buying books to be used during the sessions, with the volume to be passed on to the next reader. During the summer, according to a release sent out about the club, "readers will be able to dial into conference calls with important figures from Obama’s life."


Cherlin said Kruglik is a character named Marty Kaufman in the Obama memoir; in a 2004 interview Obama said Kaufman was Gerald Kellman, the man who hired him to come to Chicago to work as a community organizer.

Regarding the book...the following is an excerpt from a column I wrote about the Obama memoir that ran Aug. 8, 2004:

I was dismayed, however, at what I found when I read Dreams from My Father. Composite characters. Changed names. And reams of dialogue between Obama and other people that moves the narrative along but is an approximation'' of the actual conversation.

Except for public figures and his family, it is impossible to know who is real and who is not.

Obama disclosed in his introduction that he uses these literary devices to buttress his recollections. He also kept a journal. For the sake of compression,'' Obama writes, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I've known and some events appear out of precise chronology. With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy.''

The devices well serve to eloquently take the reader along on Obama's quest to understand his heritage as, as he writes, the son of a black man and white woman, an African and an American.''

Most of the book centers on his namesake father, a Harvard-educated Kenyan economist who he met only once, with less emphasis on his mother, who grew up in Kansas.

In the preface to the 2004 edition, Obama, 43, writes of his regret for focusing on the absent parent'' rather than on the parent who was the single constant in my life.''

Obama devotes several chapters in the middle of the book to his life in Chicago, where he moved after graduating from Columbia University in 1983 and where he returned after picking up a Harvard Law School degree in 1991.

Colorful characters populate the Chicago chapters: Smitty the barber, LaTisha, the part-time manicurist, Angela, Ruby, Mrs. Turner and one Rafiq al Shabazz. Who they really are, or if they are composites, you would not know from reading the book.

I questioned Obama about his memoir in a phone interview just before the Democratic convention.

I don't remember what Smitty's real name was. I think it was Wally,'' Obama said.

I asked him about a man called Marty Kaufman in the book; he was Obama's boss at his first job in Chicago as a community organizer at the Calumet Community Religious Conference.

Kaufman, Obama told me, is really Gerald Kellman. I tracked down Kellman and asked him about his portrayal in the book.

I think Barack was very accurate not only about myself but other people that I knew,'' Kellman told me.

That's reassuring, but most readers do not have the ability to call around to try to sort out the fictional characters from real people.

I say in the book it is my remembrances of what happened,'' Obama told me. I don't set it out as reportage . . . read the book for what it is worth.

"You reconstruct your memory for what happened. It is not reportage. It is not appearing in the New York Times or the Sun-Times. I say that explicitly in the book.''

I bounced my reservations about Obama's book off of Caryl Rivers, a journalism professor at Boston University and a media critic who writes fiction, non-fiction and screenplays.

Rivers did not have a problem with changing names. Using composite characters -- without telling the reader -- is troublesome, she said. When you start to bring in composite characters you immediately bring up the question of what is true,'' Rivers said.


4 Comments

I love a good piece of fiction, too! That said, the title ought to be: "The Audacity of Fathomless Narcissism".

Lynn,

It was pointless when you wrote this in 2004.

It was pointless when you re-printed it a few months ago.

It's still pointless now.

Even though you've quoted Carly Rivers in a way that suggests Obama did something wrong here, he didn't.

A better way of stating what Rivers said is:

"It is not troublesome to have composite characters if you inform the reader -- as Obama has done in Dreams From My Father."

Obama tells the reader in the introduction that some of the characters are composites. page xvii

Did you even read the book?

Obama's performance at todays NAACP Presidential Forum clearly brought out what the man is made of.A great orator, witty and intelligent.My considered view is that in the recent past Obama has been too circumspect as regards the other candidates.Much as I do not think that Barack should be on a war path demonising the other candidates for every trifling,too much deference is not necessary.This has clearly been the case when debating issues or sharing platforms with other candidates. A typical example is the issue of war. Mrs Clinton voted for the war and up till now she has not brought herself to see the moral wrong in it. I think it behooves Senator Obama to clearly articulate to the American people the demerits of the illicit Iraq war.We all need to be helped to clearly see and appreciate the dark side of this and any other war until we are filled with real moral revulsion.The American people do not hate this war only because their sons and daughters are dying in Iraq, but because war is essentially wrong and must always be a very last result in nearly all situations.This kind of clear position will expose and politically hurt the other front runner and I think that's the way it should to be.In competitive politics, opponents will obviously be hurt by positions that others take.That unfortunately is the stuff of democratic campaigns.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on July 11, 2007 9:00 PM.

Sweet blog special: This just in. Giuliani names Illinois campaign staff. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Illinois GOP challenges Iowa for Straw Poll influence.UPDATED WITH RESULTS. is the next entry in this blog.

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