I usually don’t listen to abridged audiobooks, but I made an exception for Dreams From My Father, seeing as it was read by the author. I’m following my usual practice of listening mostly at night, falling into and out of consciousness, rousing myself enough to slide the iTunes bar back to an earlier chapter if I wake to an unfamiliar section. And I must say, it’s fascinating to hear a voice that has become so famous talk — thoughtfully, humorously, brilliantly — about the influences that shaped him. Inevitably, it’s also impossible to listen without thinking of what I’m hearing as preface and backstory, and passages stand out:
“The continuing struggle to align word and action, our heartfelt desires with a workable plan, didn’t our self-esteem depend on this?”
“Our sense of wholeness would have to arise from something more fine than the bloodlines we inherited. It would have to come from the messy, contradictory details of our own experience.”
I made the mistake of Googling the title, forgetting that it would be difficult to find sites discussing the book in a reasonable fashion among those awash in vitriol and conspiracy theories. (He didn’t write it! He did, but he got things wrong! Etc.)
The messy, contradictory details.
Fortunately, I knew there was at least one extremely cogent take on the book out there. (I am sure there are many others, but I am, as previously stated, disinclined to seek them out.) I decided to read the book in the first place because I’d seen that Zadie Smith had written about it, and I wanted to read it before I read her essay.
That’s not, as it turns out, strictly necessary. Smith is writing about him, and the phenomenon of being many-voiced, code-switching, more than this book, although the book figures in her argument.
But I’m glad I did.