Long before Barack Obama began to display his political ambitions, he harboured ideas of becoming a novelist.
And now his China-based half-brother has revealed his own literary ambitions, with the publication of Nairobi to Shenzhen – which purports to be “a novel of love in the East”.
According to Reuters, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo met his more famous sibling during his recent trip to China.
The US president spent only five minutes with his relation – with whom he shares the same Kenyan father, but (a different) American mother.
Whether the commander-in-chief had the opportunity to offer a full critique of his half-brother’s literary efforts is unclear. In truth, he may not have even read it, although the president did tell CNN that he’d been briefed on the book’s more sensitive content.
Nairobi to Shenzhen is a semi-autobiographical account of how Ndesandjo arrived in China. It also explores some of the psychological demons that he claims to be fleeing from. Namely, it makes explicit how he and his mother (Ruth Nidesand) were beaten by Barack Obama Senior.
President Obama told CNN that this was not exactly a revelation. “It’s no secret that my father was a troubled person,” he said. “Anybody who’s read my first book, Dreams of My Father, knows that. He had an alcoholism problem and he didn’t treat his families very well.”
The book is mostly set in Shenzhen – where the author now runs several businesses – and there are no shortage of observations about modern China (“Americans are terrible people. I hate Americans,” says one minor character). Ndesandjo has a Chinese wife, speaks Chinese and even practices calligraphy. He’s lived in China for eight years.
Still, WiC wouldn’t recommend Ndesandjo’s debut work. Unlike his half-brother, he is not a master of language (it’s hard to imagine Obama wowing a crowd with an expression like “pantheistic nonchalance”).
Even the sex scene is clunky (“She had insisted on a condom”).
Nor is Ndesandjo entirely on top of his China brief: take his assertion that Hong Kong reverted to China in 1995. As errors go, that one’s pretty glaring.
Ndesandjo is an accomplished pianist who has raised money – through his concerts – for Chinese orphans. On the evidence of this book, the piano remains very much his stronger suit.
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