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Pan Macmillan

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Auma Obama Discusses Her Memoir And Then Life Happens at Idasa

Auma Obama

Auma Obama, sister of US President Barack Obama, was in Cape Town recently to promote her autobiography, And Then Life Happens. Packed with anecdotes of her life in Kenya and her eventual departure to Germany, Auma’s story is yet another in the canon of post-colonial memoirs that will serve as a reminder to many that the experiences of Africans in the diaspora are at once varied and distinct, but not without certain similarities.

Auma Obama chats to Carlotta von MaltzanAnd Then Life HappensTranslated from the German by Ross Benjamin, And Then Life Happens offers a candid look at Auma’s early life and family, and her education in Germany. She also writes of her move to England for love, marriage and giving birth to her daughter Akinyi.

Carlotta von Maltzan of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at the University of Stellenbosch) was in conversation with her at Idasa, where Obama addressed many of the aspects of her life that are covered in the book. She began by speaking about her early years and revealed that she had learned German because she was not that interested in French: “German is easy, it speaks to how direct I am. In fact if you just change the letters of some of the words, they become English words! I know someone here in the audience will disagree!”

Obama read a couple of passages from the book, including a piece which describes her arrival in Germany as a teenager. A second passage provided the audience with plenty of laughs, and she detailed her experience of culture shock in Germany. “I was so young and naive, only 19. I’ve changed since then.”

Obama is clearly very passionate about the work she does, with her organization Sauti Kuu, emphasised the need for Africans to end the “victim mentality” and move to being self-reliant: “You’ll see people in the slums in Kenya, just waiting to be spotted by NGOs. And this is what we must stop. If children can look at you in the eyes, and understand that they matter, and gain their own self-worth…everything that I do is to teach young people to dream bigger, to look for opportunities that will help them to help themselves. Not to look for a handout.”

The Goethe Institut, who brought Obama to South Africa for the Idasa launch and others around South Africa, provided delicious and plentiful fare for the substantial audience. After the talk, many lingered to take their photograph with Auma and get their copy of And Then Life Happens signed.

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Luso Mnthali tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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