The truth, nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth


The truth, nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth

Former US president Barack Obama’s limpid memoir is a blast, until he reaches the White House

Edward Luce

Barack Obama’s US presidential memoir, A Promised Land, can be split into two narrative styles. The first chronicles his almost cinematic life story up to his January 2009 inauguration. The rest is devoted to the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency. Though they are in the same memoir they read, at times, like different books.

Obama’s limpid prose, which shot him to fame in the mid-1990s with his precocious autobiography, Dreams From My Father, is alive and well in the way he describes his pre-presidential days, including his historic 2008 campaign. It is easy to see why Penguin Random House gave him and Michelle Obama a combined $65m (about R998m), an advance to which none of his predecessors have come close.

Once he reaches the White House, however, Obama’s storytelling arc hits a plateau. Some of the life drains from the writing. Though A Promised Land concludes with the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, his account of that dramatic moment feels almost anticlimactic...

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