Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Singular Woman by Janny Scott

So, I had read Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father a while ago - maybe during the election season - and was sorely disappointed in the seeming lack of attention that he paid to his mother even though she was, by all accounts, a driving force in shaping him. So when NPR had a story about this book, I immediately decided to get it.

Stanley Ann Dunham led a completely unconventional life from the beginning apparently.  Her parents gave her the first name "Stanley," although later in her life she often went by just "Ann" or "S. Ann" if she were writing something professionally.  As an adolescent, she moved to Hawai'i with her parents (who had eloped) and began to study Anthropology. Her love of anthropology, and industry/textiles in particular drove her life.  During her studies, she met Barack Obama, Sr., a Kenyan national also studying at the University of Hawai'i. At 18, she found herself pregnant with his child, so they got married and then divorced in short order when she found out that he was still married to a woman in Kenya, had two children with her and a third on the way. So, in essence, she became a single, divorced, teenage mother of a bi-racial child voluntarily at a time when society was, perhaps, not as accepting as it is today of any of those things. Ann eventually married Lolo Soetoro and moved to Indonesia in 1966, where she had Maya. Barack moved there with her in 1967 and was schooled there until high school, when he returned to Hawai'i to live with his grandparents and complete high school. Ann remained in Indonesia with Lolo and Maya, conducting research, working and writing her Ph.D. thesis.

The book relates Ann Dunham's life from her birth through her death from uterine cancer in 1995 and her struggles with health insurance, parenting and expatriate society.

This book was astounding and a book that I fully intend to keep in my library forever.  Janny Scott, an award winning journalist, shows that the awards that she was won were well deserved.  Her subject - Ms. Dunham - was well researched. Ms. Scott had read extensively from Ms. Dunham's own letters, journals, papers and notes and this was apparent in how extensively they were quoted throughout the book. It was as if Ann were telling us her story herself, instead of through Ms. Scott (which is what makes her such a good biographer and writer - she is, essentially, channeling her subject). Ms. Scott also interviewed the people closest to Ann Dunham, including the President himself and Maya Soetoro-Ng, his half sister, as well as other family members, close friends and co-workers. She was then able to cobble together all of this information into a beautiful and coherent picture of a multi-dimensional women that excelled in some areas while struggling in others.

Definitely a must read.

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