The six page excerpt focuses on two of Obama’s early girlfriends. One, named Alex McNear, Obama met at Occidental College before he transferred to Columbia. She came to New York for a summer, the start of a long-distance, letter-based relationship in 1982.
Maraniss got a hold of many of the letters they exchanged — many more literary than romantic.
Here’s Obama on the poet T.S. Eliot, in one of letter to McNear:
“Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance.”
In December 1983 Obama met Genevieve Cook, the daughter of a prominent Australian diplomat, at a party. While he told Maraniss that he was speaking of Cook in “Dreams of My Father” when he wrote, “There was a woman in New York that I loved. She was white ... Her voice sounded like a wind chime,” Obama says he compressed several girlfriends into one in the book (as he noted in his memoir’s introduction).
Obama and Cook lived together briefly but in May 1985 they broke up. “I’m left wondering if Barack’s reserve, etc. is not just the time in his life, but, after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he’s sorted his life through with age and experience,” she wrote in her journal. “Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)”
One incident Obama describes in “Dreams,” in which his “New York girlfriend” asks why “black people were so angry all the time,” is not about Cook and Maraniss believes it happened in Chicago, not New York. Maraniss told Vanity Fair that the president’s memoir “is a remarkably insightful exploration of his internal struggle but should not be read as rigorous factual history.”
A couple more fascinating factoids from the Maraniss excerpt:
* Obama liked making tuna-fish sandwiches and ginger beef.
* The future president had a circle of Pakistani friends in New York (Politico interviewed some of them in 2008) but he drifted away from them as they headed towards careers in business. (They also partied a little too hard for him.) “Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me,” he told McNear.
* According to Cook, Obama was a “virtuous daily jogger” who was “unsettled” when his girlfriend raced him and won.
You can read the whole thing here. Vanity Fair also interviews Maraniss, who says he discussed some of Cook’s journal entries with the president but that Obama had not read them: “He was, of course, curious about her, where she was, and how she was doing,” said Maraniss.
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