When Barry Met Kuki

Michelle Obama is billing The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, as a self-help manual but it could be the launch of her 2024 campaign for president. Curiously, the new book makes no mention of Dreams from My Father, the basis for her husband’s run for president in 2008. Responsibility for the omission most likely goes to Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow, author of The FBI and Martin Luther King and other acclaimed books. 

Garrow’s 2017 Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama runs more than 1,000 pages. On page 538, Garrow observes: 

“Dreams from My Father was not a memoir or an autobiography; it was instead, in multitudinous ways, without any question a work of historical fiction [Garrow’s emphasis]. It featured many true-to-life figures and a bevy of accurately described events that indeed had occurred, but it employed the techniques and literary license of a novel, and its most important composite character was the narrator himself.”

Garrow also identified happy-drunk poet “Frank” as Frank Marshall Davis, an African American Communist who spent much of his life defending an all-white Soviet dictatorship and writing pornography such as Sex Rebel: Black. As Garrow explains, “Davis’ Communist background plus his kinky exploits made him politically radioactive.” That is why Barry needed the “historical fiction” of Dreams from My Father, the backstory about the Kenyan foreign student. 

The rising star had “remaining disagreements—some strong indeed” with Garrow’s book. The disagreements would have been even stronger had Garrow exposed Obama’s source material for the Dreams section on Kenya, a fascinating read. 

En route to Africa, the author writes, “I pulled out a book from my carry-on bag and tried to read. It was a portrait of several African countries by a Western journalist who’d spent a decade in Africa.” The author and the book are not named but the most likely prospects are I Dreamed of Africa, published in 1991, and the 1994 African Nights, both by Italian writer Kuki Gallmann, a longtime resident of Kenya with husband Paulo and children Sveva and Emanuele. 

In Dreams from My Father, the American meets “a dark-haired Italian named Mauro and a British couple in their early forties, the Wilkersons.” Remember, Dreams from My Father is a novel and the composite character plays fast and loose with names. As the introduction explains, “some of the characters that appear are composites of people I’ve known,” and “the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy.” 

On page 64 of Dreams from My Father, the author says he went to the library and “found a book on East Africa,” in which the Luo tribe merited only a short paragraph. I Dreamed of Africa mentions a Luo servant named Atipa, and in African Nights Gallman briefly states that the “Luo tribe is spread around the shores of the great Lake Victoria, in western Kenya.” 

In Dreams from My Father, the author proclaims that his long-lost father was “a Kenyan of the Luo tribe, born on the shores of Lake Victoria in a place called Alego.” 

In African Nights, released one year before Dreams from My Father hit the shelves, Kuki Gallmann writes of “a little man with a perennial grin,” a volunteer for any kind of work. “His sentences often became entangled in a painful stutter, but his good nature and willingness amply made up for his lack of initiative.” In Dreams, the reader finds Mr. Lucas, “a short, gentle man with a bit of a stutter; he did odd jobs.” 

Africa, Gallmann writes, “still has what most of the world has lost. Space. Roots. Traditions. Stunning beauty. True wilderness. Rare animals. Extraordinary people. The land that will always attract those who can still dream.” One evening the Italian author looked down at the “the breathtaking depths of the Mukatan Gorge, in the Great Rift Valley, in this living cathedral of the spirit.” In I Dreamed of Africa, Gallmann marvels at “the breathtaking spaces of the Great Rift Valley,” and takes in the “breathtaking view of the Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha.”

The Dreams from My Father author arrives at “the Great Rift Valley” and stands “at the edge of the escarpment, looking out to the western plain.” For the author, “This is what Creation looked like.” 

Kenya is a vast land of nearly 225,000 square miles. In African Nights, Gallmann and company “camped in the area of Narok, one of the main centers of the proud Maasai tribe.” In Dreams from My Father, the American travels to Narok, “a small trading town where we stopped for gas and lunch.” 

In I Dreamed of Africa and African Nights, the reader finds “the ink-black of Arap Langat” and “the ink-black darkness” where fish are approaching. Under a slate sky lies the “ink-black turmoil of the ocean,” and so forth. 

Dreams of My Father speaks of “ink-black stairwells” and “tall ink-black Luos and short brown Kikuyus.” In Kenya, men “dive into inky-black waters.” 

Gallmann sees “coral walls and purple Bougainvillea,” and the American spots “Bougainvillea, red and pink and yellow with flowers, spread along one side.” Gallman sees the “dusty and thorny savannah,” the “open savannah” and savannah contrasting the wind-swept highlands. The American surveys “wide plains, savannah grass” and a “thorn tree against the horizon.”

Both Gallman books include a glossary with terms such as shamba, shuka, boma, kangas, matatus, and baobab for various African garments, vehicles, foods, and plants. Dreams from My Father cranks out these terms like someone who had lived in Africa for many years. That would be someone like Kuki Gallmann. 

Gallman describes “women in colorful shukas and rows of brass and bead necklaces” while the American newcomer finds Maasai women “wrapped in red shukas.” In both accounts, the Kenyan ladies with “laughing smiles” are often found on “straw mats.” The American describes “their smooth brown legs sticking straight out in front of them from under wide skirts.”

Kuki Gallmann describes women with “stick-like legs, thin arms gleaming with glass bracelets.” The American encounters a “spindly cook named Rafael,” and a Kenyan named Mirimuk has “gaunt cheeks, slightly protruding eyes but stick-like indefatigable legs.” That is also the case with the Kenyan Barack Obama, Sr., when Barry, at the age of 10, sees him in Hawaii. 

“He was much thinner than I expected,” the author explains, “the bones of his knees cutting the legs of his trousers in sharp angles.” His “eyes were slightly yellow, the eyes of someone who has had malaria more than once. There was a fragility about his frame.” 

In Kenya, Barry’s aunt Auma has a poster that says, “I have a dream.” In I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki Gallmann writes, “the profiles of the hills seemed inexplicably familiar, as though I had already been there. . . It was more than I could have dreamed and yet it was exactly what I had dreamed.” Much of what appears in Dreams from My Father, is a lot like what Kuki Gallmann wrote, including the title. 

“I Dreamed of Africa” hit the big screen in 2000, with Kim Basinger as Kuki Gallmann and Vincent Perez as husband Paulo, directed by Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”). As the IMBD profile has it, “a bored Italian socialite abandons her jet-set lifestyle for the rigors and rewards of rural Kenya in this true story, based on the best-selling memoir by Kuki Gallmann.” 

“When Barry Met Kuki” has not been optioned, but the profile would read: A half-white Harvard lawyer and his white ghostwriters rip off the memoirs of a white Italian in Barry’s quest to become a political star. 

The plagiarism leaps from the pages but seems to have escaped biographers such as David Maraniss, author of Barack Obama: The Story. Fortunately, clues emerged in An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen, the memoir of publisher and editor Peter Osnos, released in June 2021.

The former Barry Soetoro, stepson of Lolo Soetoro, the Indonesian student his mother Ann Dunham married in 1965, started calling himself Barack Obama. He had no record of publication but landed a deal with Simon & Schuster for a book on race and voting rights. The aspiring author failed to deliver, and agent Jane Dystel brokered a deal with Osnos, then publisher of Times Books. 

In 1994, the book was still unfinished and the author said he needed to make a trip to Kenya for research about his father. In all likelihood, instead of going to Africa, Obama or his ghostwriter simply ripped off the memoirs of Kuki Gallmann. 

Obama has been billed as the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln. According to Jack Cashill, who has been on to the Gallmann connection since 2011, POTUS 44 is the “best plagiarist to occupy the White House before Biden.” There is, of course, much more to the story. 

As many believe, Weather Underground veteran Bill Ayers had a hand in Dreams from My Father. The most likely principal author is David Axelrod, dubbed “Obama’s narrator” by the New York Times. For a presidential candidate, Axelrod explains in his 2015 Believer, “biography is foundational,” and the Obama narrator “felt more comfortable, and proficient at, telling stories” than creating ads. 

The believer describes his client Obama as “a fantastic writer with the skill of an historical novelist.” Like Eve Rand in Being There, the Obama narrator reveals himself to himself, and he is drenched and purged. 

Two years later, David Garrow proclaimed Dreams from My Father, an historical novel masquerading as a biography and memoir. A Promised Land, released in November 2020, indulges the same elephantine, hagiographical style, and now Michelle may have tapped the Obama narrator’s services. 

In 2008, Christopher Hitchens said Michelle’s college thesis couldn’t be read “because it wasn’t written in any known language.” About halfway through her book Becoming, Michelle introduces David Axelrod, who would “lead the messaging for Barack.” If anyone thought the believer had a hand in The Light We Carry, it would be hard to blame them. He’d rather tell stories than produce ads. 

A Promised Land leaves out the Stalinist Frank Marshall Davis, whose duty for the Soviet Union landed him on the FBI’s security index. Dreams from My Father gets only a single mention, and nothing about “Frank.” In similar style, Michelle’s book leaves out Frank and Dreams from My Father, which contends that the Kenyan “bequeathed his name” to young Barry Soetoro. By the end of Dreams, the Kenyan is a nameless “Old Man,” even to members of his own family. 

Barry was born on August 4, 1961. In all the Kenyan Barack Obama, Sr.’s documents from 1958 to 1964, housed at the Harlem-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, he makes not a single mention of an American wife and Hawaiian-born son. 

No matter, the Dreams author rode the narrative all the way to the White House. Now it seems Michelle Obama may seek a return to the premises. In her 2018 Becoming, Michelle claimed “I have no intention of running for office, ever,” but in politics it’s best not to believe anything until it’s officially denied. 

With the addled Joe Biden, 80, in the White House, and Rip Van Winkle communist Bernie Sanders, 81, pondering another run, Michelle may turn out to be “the answer,” as she says her husband was in 2008. That year, the dynamic orator promised to fundamentally transform the United States of America. 

In fundamentally transformed America, the outgoing president picks his successor and deploys the FBI and Justice Department against opponents. The transformation also divides the nation into oppressor and victim classes, along racial lines. The composite character’s domestic opposition replaces foreign adversaries and foreign terrorists as the greatest threat to the nation. 

A terrorist mass murder becomes “workplace violence,” but parents who resist the racist indoctrination of their children are branded domestic terrorists. Arsonists, murderers, and looters are transformed into peaceful protesters. The nation’s past is vilified, and globalist institutions glorified. 

All that, and much more, is going on under Joe Biden, and would surely expand under Michelle Obama. See Joel Gilbert’s documentary, Michelle Obama 2024: Her Real Life Story and Plan for Power. As the IMBD profile explains, Michelle’s “official life story is nothing like she claims.” 

Neither was her husband’s, and he would doubtless be calling the shots. This is what happens when a composite character, whose autobiography is a novel, becomes the most powerful man in the world. Meanwhile, how do you like the “promised land” so far? I’m asking for a friend. 

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images