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Obama's half brother goes public with new book

President Obama's half-brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo holds a press conference prior to a book launch in Guangzhou, China, on Nov. 4, 2009. Ndesandjo, who has lived Southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, has broken his silence and launched his debut novel.
President Obama's half-brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo holds a press conference prior to a book launch in Guangzhou, China, on Nov. 4, 2009. Ndesandjo, who has lived Southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, has broken his silence and launched his debut novel. (Mike Clarke - AFP/Getty Images)

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By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 5, 2009

GUANGZHOU, CHINA -- The mixed-race son of a brilliant but troubled Kenyan academic and a white American woman writes an emotionally wrenching book about his search for identity and self.

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But this is not the familiar story of President Obama. It is the tale of his publicity-shy younger half brother, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo, who has lived in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for seven years and has just produced a loosely autobiographical work of fiction titled "Nairobi to Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East."

Speaking out publicly for the first time Wednesday, Ndesandjo made only a few references to his famous brother, saying: "We are family. I love my family, and we are in touch." He attended Obama's presidential inauguration in January, and he said he plans to see his brother when the president makes an official visit to Beijing this month.

Ndesandjo credits Obama's election last year with allowing him to come to terms with his painful past and motivating him to finish his book.

In the 255-page novel, self-published through Aventine Press, Ndesandjo's character is called David. The author depicts his Kenyan father as an abusive alcoholic who beats David and David's Jewish American mother. He makes no reference to his brother Barack.

Barack Obama Sr. married Mark's mother, Ruth Nidesand, while he was studying at Harvard after divorcing President Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. The elder Obama and Nidesand lived together in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where Mark spent much of his childhood.

How much of the book is true?

"It's a work of fiction, but there's a lot going on in there that parallels my life," Ndesandjo said in a brief interview before a news conference to launch the book, which he said was nearly a decade in the making. While he said that some of the characters are composites, he said many scenes echo his experience as a victim of, and a witness to, domestic violence.

"My father beat me. He beat my mother. And you just don't do that," Ndesandjo said at the news conference. "I shut those thoughts in the back of my mind for many years."

"I remember times in my house when I would hear the screams, and I would hear my mother's pain," he said. "I was a child. . . . I could not protect her."

A painful name

Ndesandjo said his memories of his father were so bitter that he stopped using the name Obama and adopted the last name of his stepfather, a man Nidesand married after divorcing Obama Sr. But then, Ndesandjo said, he watched the televised scenes of joy in Chicago's Grant Park on the night a man with that hated last name was elected president of the United States.

"There was this remarkable movement from fear towards hope," Ndesandjo said. "I was so proud of my brother Barack."


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