Secret diaries uncover Obama, the young romantic

In revealing interviews, letters and diaries, ex-girlfriends of Barack Obama have revealed all about the youth of the American President. Was his fame written in the stars?

When he graduated from university, Barack Obama moved to New York, and fell in love.

His lover, he writes in his memoir, had ‘dark hair and specks of green in her eyes’. They were together for over a year. Briefly, they even shared a home.

For a long time, the identity of this mystery woman has been shrouded in secrecy. But last week, she – and the tattered diaries of her years with the man who is now US president – appeared in the spotlight.

Those expecting salacious tales of sex, drugs and mischief will be disappointed. When Genevieve Cook knew him, Obama was a thoughtful young man. Preoccupied with race, he felt torn between many different cultures. He seemed wise beyond his years and guarded his private troubles fiercely.

Any juicier gossip? Well, the future president spent Sundays bare-chested, in a blue sarong, drinking coffee and doing crosswords.

Genevieve is not the only lover to have let secrets slip. In a letter to an earlier girlfriend, Barack turns literary critic and muses on the ‘fatalism’ of T.S. Eliot. In the eyes of close friend Sohale Siddiqui he was a ‘saint and a square’, spouting ‘boring’ lectures in the chilly, crime-ridden apartment block they shared as young men.

The glimpse into the making of a president has fascinated millions – and the life stories of the great and the good have long exerted a compelling draw. Last year, audiences flocked to see The Iron Lady, eager to discover how Margaret Thatcher’s past paved the way to Downing Street. Her success, the story goes, was thanks to hard work and ruthless commitment – values she learnt from her father, a humble shopkeeper.

The young Obama was also fascinated by how the future was shaped by history. Girlfriends say he was obsessed with choice – and often felt that his decisions were influenced by his background.

Perhaps he was right. Some parts of Obama’s life have turned out to be strikingly predictable. When he broke up with Genevieve, she believed his ideal woman was waiting for him somewhere – and imagined her clearly: ‘very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher... a black woman’. It is a description that fits Michelle Obama, today’s First Lady, almost perfectly.

Meant to be?

All this, many say, suggests that Obama’s journey to the White House was meant to be. From an early age, his unique characteristics, relationships and experiences were shaping the President he would become. Obama’s world-changing success was clearly written in the stars.

Others dismiss this romantic idea. Coincidence, choice and hard work shape who we are – not fate. The US President could have ended up anywhere: the idea that his life was directed by some kind of guiding force is ludicrous.

You Decide

  1. How would you react to your ex girlfriend or boyfriend telling the world about your relationship?
  2. Do you think Obama’s life was ‘written in the stars’?

Activities

  1. Perform an imagined interview with Obama, about his youth and the revelations in the book.
  2. Write a short biography of Obama – examining how his experiences as a young man shaped the presidency he’s become.

Some People Say...

“The young Obama is just pretentious.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why has this come out now?
The interview with Genevieve was an extract from an upcoming biography of Obama, by David Maraniss. With the upcoming presidential elections, its release could be great timing: if the US president comes across well, it is likely to boost his campaign ratings.
So did Obama always want to be president?
Not always: when in his twenties, he thought he might become a writer.
But it seems like thoughtful qualities paved the way to greatness...
Perhaps they were important to his success. But different personality types can be successful in different ways. Some of Obama’s wilder, less thoughtful friends became chief executives. And there’s no required character for US Presidents. either: George W. Bush isn’t known for writing long letters about modernist poetry, after all.

Word Watch

Salacious
This word comes from the Latin salax, which means ‘fond of leaping’. This isn’t a reference to merely jumping around, however: it refers to lustful male animals leaping on females. Something salacious is usually about sex or lust.
T.S Eliot
One of the defining writers of the last century, T.S. Eliot’s works include The Waste Land, Four Quartets and, more light-heartedly, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In these and his essays, he played an essential role in developing Modernist poetry – championing other writers, theorising about the history of literature and editing literary magazines.
Margaret Thatcher
As the only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a proponent of a particular brand of Conservative politics, Margaret Thatcher is loved and hated in equal measure. Her detractors loathe her for breaking workers’ unions, while supporters praise her for saving the British economy in the 1980s.

Subjects

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