books, politics

the watchful eye and patiently attentive ear

In politics, “realism” is usually just another term for pragmatism, or Realpolitik. But “Dreams From My Father” suggests that for Obama the word is rooted less in a political than in a literary tradition, where it has a far richer meaning. It signifies the watchful eye and patiently attentive ear; a proper humility in the face of the multiplex character of human society; and, most of all, a belief in the power of the writer’s imagination to comprehend and ultimately reconcile the manifold contradictions in his teeming world. It’s not much to go on, but, so far, naming his cabinet and organizing his inauguration, incorporating into the narrative characters and voices quite different from his own (like Hillary Clinton’s or Rick Warren’s), Obama has demonstrated an impressive consistency between his instincts as a writer and his performance as president-elect. He reminds us that novelists, no less than apprentice politicians, are in the business of community organizing.

– Jonathan Raban, “All The Presidents’ Literature,” WSJ