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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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The election "peeled away some of that hardness," he said. "I became proud of being an Obama." He added that name back to his and found the drive to complete the book.

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Ndesandjo originally began writing a pure autobiography, which he said is finished and will be published soon, adding that it will answer some questions the novel raises.

The novel at one point gives away that Ndesandjo is writing about himself. On Page 81, when David enters a restaurant, a friend says, "Oh, Hi, Mark" -- an author's error that psychologists might call a Freudian slip.

"What's the identification between an author and his subjects?" Ndesandjo said in the interview. "Where does an author end and a character begin?"

He added: "You want to give authenticity to your character. And the character you best know is yourself."

He said he wrote the novel partly to raise awareness of domestic violence. Fifteen percent of any proceeds from the book, he said, will go to assist orphans and other children through the "Help the Kids" project he has organized.

Family resemblance

Ndesandjo bears a striking resemblance to his brother. He is what Obama would look like if he shaved his head, wore a bandanna, favored black T-shirts and sported an earring in his left ear.

Ndesandjo, who is a U.S. citizen, has an academic pedigree as lofty as his brother's, with bachelor's degrees in physics and math from Brown University, a master's degree in physics from Stanford and an MBA from Emory. He is also an accomplished pianist, does Chinese calligraphy and has just finished reading the Chinese epic "The Dream of Red Mansions" in Mandarin.

After working in telecommunications and marketing in the United States and then losing his job, he relocated to China after Sept. 11, 2001. In Shenzhen, a booming southern city bordering Hong Kong, he began teaching English, giving piano lessons, learning Chinese and dedicating himself to helping orphans and underprivileged children -- much like the David character of his novel.

Ndesandjo was married in China. In his novel, David falls in love with a beautiful Chinese woman named Spring but must still deal with the lingering pain of the violence he suffered as a child.

Even in China, Obama's ascent to the White House has brought unwelcome attention to the brother who has tried to maintain a low profile and lose himself in his work.

"Since the election, I have been getting a few more phone calls, especially from reporters," Ndesandjo said. "I've tried to keep focused on the important things in my life -- the music, the calligraphy, the writing, of course, and helping the kids learn piano."


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