Why Obama Split With His Ex Before Michelle

In biography, David J. Garrow asserts race was a factor
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2017 9:57 AM CDT
Marriage Proposal to Michelle Wasn't Obama's First
Barack Obama at a town hall in Lima, Peru, on Nov. 19, 2016.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

At 1,460 pages, David J. Garrow's new biography of Barack Obama is no quick read, including details down to the student evaluations he received while teaching at the University of Chicago. Rising Star paints Obama as a man making calculated choices in the course of a lifelong pursuit of the presidency. Among those, Garrow writes, is his decision to break off a relationship with Sheila Miyoshi Jager, a woman he loved in the late 1980s and to whom he proposed marriage, though her parents didn't approve. Garrow sees race as the central issue in their failed relationship—but not Obama's race. Jager, of Japanese and Dutch descent, didn't seem to suit Obama's need to "fully identify as African American" in order to pursue his "calling," Garrow writes, noting a non-black spouse was seen as a liability in Chicago politics.

But apart from the "bitter musings" of an ex, "Garrow has turned up little that's substantially new," Michiko Kakutani writes in a review at the New York Times, calling the book "a dreary slog of a read" that is "way more exhausting than exhaustive." It's "as if Garrow wanted to include every last scrap of information he'd unearthed" from interviews conducted with more than a thousand people, she adds. At the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada agrees, noting "at times Garrow delivers information simply because he has it." But Lozada notes Garrow also adds some "deliciously small-bore" details—painting the Illinois statehouse as a place of adultery (not on Obama's part) and poker games, for instance—even if the presidential part of his legacy is rushed in "a clunky and tacky epilogue." The book is out Tuesday. (Here's how Sasha and Malia spent their last night in the White House.)

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