Obama's half-brother's memoir may prove controversial

Mark Obama Ndesandjo's book will reportedly detail abuse, beatings from the father he and the president shared.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a meeting in which he and Michelle Obama spoke with a group of mothers in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

President Obama’s half brother is publishing an autobiography that explores in greater detail the alcoholic, abusive father the two men shared as well as other revelations about the broken family.

Mark Obama Ndesandjo will self-publish “Cultures: My Odyssey of Self-Discovery” in February. Based on early reports, the book may attract controversy.

In it, Ndesandjo “recalls alcohol-fueled beatings meted out by his father to his mother,” according to a report by the AP. “He recounts one incident in which his father held a knife to his mother's throat because she took out a restraining order against him.”

Obama has not spoken much about his father, who was largely absent from his upbringing and died in 1982.

However, asked about an earlier novel written by Ndesandjo, Obama said in a CNN interview, “it's no secret that my father was a troubled person. Anybody who has read my first book, ‘Dreams from My Father,’ knows that, you know, he had an alcoholism problem, that he didn't treat his families very well. Obviously it's a sad part of my history and my background but it's not something I spend a lot of time brooding over.”

According to Ndesandjo, the book also contains an appendix with corrections on alleged errors in the president’s bestselling 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” in which Obama tries to learn more about their absent father after he was killed in a car crash in 1982.

“It's a correction,” Ndesandjo told the AP. “A lot of the stuff that Barack wrote is wrong in that book and I can understand that because to me, for him, the book was a tool for fashioning an identity and he was using composites.

“I wanted to bring it up because first of all I wanted the record to be straight. I wanted to tell my own story, not let people tell it for me.”

The book details Ndesandjo’s first meeting with Obama, which took place in Kenya in 1988.

“Barack thought I was too white and I thought he was too black,” Ndesandjo said. “He was an American searching for his African roots, I was a Kenyan, I'm an American but I was living in Kenya, searching for my white roots.” 

Though Ndesandjo and Obama share a father, Ndesandjo’s mother was Ruth Ndesandjo, a Jewish woman who was Obama Sr.’s third wife. Obama Sr. had earlier divorced Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

As such, the two half-brothers did not grow up together. Ndesandjo was raised in Kenya but attended college in the US. When the US economy tanked after 9/11, Ndesandjo moved to China, where he taught English. He now works as a consultant in Shenzen and has immersed himself in Chinese culture, according to reports. He is married to a Chinese woman, learned to speak Chinese, and has taken up Chinese hobbies such as poetry and brush calligraphy. Four years he ago, he published a novel based on his life, “Nairobi to Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ndesandjo’s writings, which air private matters in public, have not won him favor from his family. 

Describing his relationship with his half-brother Obama, Ndesandjo told the AP, “Right now it's cold and I think part of the reason is because of my writing. My writing has alienated some people in my family.” Nonetheless, he added, "I hope that my brother and I can really hug each other after he's president and we can be a family again.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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