January 30, 2009

John Updike and Obama’s Mom and Dad

The allure of the recently deceased John Updike has always been lost on me, as has that of all those stories about marital unrest in the Upper East side one finds in the New Yorker and such. But I began to rethink Updike this Christmas as I read Steve Sailer’s magnificent “readers guide” to the autobiography of our newly election president, America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s Story of Race and Inheritance. (You can get your copy here.) It seems that Updike’s 1978 novel, The Coup, includes some uncanny insights into the international love affair between Barack’s mother and father. 

As Steve notes:

The Coup [is] about a brilliant African government official?one remarkably similar to Barack Obama Sr.?who acquired a white wife at an American college in 1959… Fifteen years of unhappy polygamous marriage later, Candy (like Ann, the daughter of a Midwestern salesman), tells her African husband, Colonel Hakim F?lix Ellello?:

?You know what everybody at college used to say to me? They said I was crazy to put myself at the mercy of a Negro.?

?You needed to prove them right,? Ellello? said, bothered by a certain poignant twist in her body, ? implying ? an ambivalent torque of the soul?in Candace?s case, between taunting and plea, a regret that even in her extremity of rage she should taunt her husband with the blackness that had made him fascinating and herself noble and the two of them together undergraduate stars?

It?s not clear when Ann discovered that Barack Sr. was already married. In the 1980s, she told her son: ?And then there was a problem with your father?s first wife?he had told me they were separated, but it was a village wedding, so there was no legal document that could show a divorce?.?

(As an anthropologist dedicated to cultural relativism, Ann could hardly dismiss the legitimacy of a ?village wedding.?)

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