Obama's Half-Brother Lives A World Apart President Obama's father married four times before he died. His seven surviving children are scattered from China to the White House. The youngest has written a book about his life in Kenya — and it's a life altogether different from that of his half-brother, the U.S. president.
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Obama's Half-Brother Lives A World Apart

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Obama's Half-Brother Lives A World Apart

Obama's Half-Brother Lives A World Apart

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama has seven surviving half-brothers and half-sisters spread around the globe. The youngest, George Obama, has written a memoir about his checkered life in Kenya. At the very least, the book "Homeland" addresses the question: Why can't you be more like your brother?

NPR's Gwen Thompkins recently spent an afternoon with him in Nairobi.

GWEN THOMPKINS: If George Obama were any more relaxed, he'd be in a coma. As it is, he's way down in the passenger seat of a dull gray sedan, eyes half open as we course through his neighborhood. We're in an area of Nairobi called Umoja, that's filled with working people getting on with the business of the afternoon. Aside from the music emanating from the car, this place has its own soundtrack of electric saws, Nigerian soap operas and the occasional cluck of a live chicken.

Obama likes to call where he lives the ghetto. But he knows better than that. This is just Umoja. And yet here in the car, every other word is ghetto, ghetto, ghetto.

(Soundbite of radio)

Unidentified Man: Ghetto radio, R&B, hip-hop, East African music. Ghetto, Ghetto, Ghetto Radio. Get down with Ghetto Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

THOMPKINS: Technically, the nearest ghetto is a 10-minute drive or maybe an hour and a half, depending on traffic. Most of the roads are not paved, and they rut and rise like a roiling sea. On this day, the car is pitching through the middle distance between the slum that Obama once called home and the apartment where he lives now. And at age 28, George Obama is somewhere in the middle distance between being a boy and being a man. He's a mannish boy, which is tough when you're also a husband and a father. And when you've done jail time. And when your half-brother is the president of the United States.

Mr. GEORGE OBAMA (Author, "Homeland"): I just think I'm, like, I was born a rebel, or something. I don't know. I'm not sure why.

THOMPKINS: Here at his tidy apartment, George talks about his memoir called "Homeland." The writing style seems closer to the way his British co-author talks. But the feelings expressed in the book - the regrets of a criminal youth, the desire to do better and maybe even to do some good - appear to be the exclusive property of George Hussein Obama.

Mr. OBAMA: I've done a lot of bad things in my life, and I regret them. I've gone through a good life to a bad life and I've come back to a good life.

THOMPKINS: "Homeland" also emphasizes George's first and most abiding love: the playground.

(Soundbite of running)

THOMPKINS: At a nearby field, he and his friends are kicking around a soccer ball while waiting for the local team he sponsors to begin practice.

George first met his brother on a playground. He was in primary school, and the future U.S. president was a young visitor to Nairobi. Their father had died years before in a car crash, and George and Barack were raised by different mothers. George says the meeting interrupted a hell of a soccer game. And that's pretty much all he remembers.

Back at the apartment, George recalled his only other meeting with his brother, who returned to Kenya as a U.S. senator in 2006. It was little more than a handshake.

Mr. OBAMA: I don't know him particularly well, but he's an inspiration.

THOMPKINS: And the connection has made George Obama a minor celebrity here. He gets free rides on the local buses and, of course, he got that book deal with Simon & Schuster. But neither perk would likely be possible if George hadn't earned the reputation of being something of a thug. At 15, he ran away from home and dropped out of school. He's now a former gang member who's generous with his friends and fusses over babies. But he's prickly. And, judging from the fresh scars on his knuckles, George leads with his right.

Mr. OBAMA: You know, I don't know how to explain this but I'm really violent. I know how to beat people.

THOMPKINS: Well, everybody kind of, you know, gets into a fight...

Mr. OBAMA: No, I'm good with my fists too much.

THOMPKINS: You think so?

Mr. OBAMA: Yeah.

THOMPKINS: In 2003, Obama spent several months in jail for a robbery he says he did not commit. But he says he had robbed plenty of other people, often at gunpoint. Nowadays he calls himself a community activist in the slum where he once lived as a gangster. George likens his activism to that of his brother in Chicago. But in "Homeland," George writes that even back in 2006, he knew he could be no more like Barack than Barack could be like him.

Mr. OBAMA: I wondered what my American brother might make of me. I was a kid from the slum, the Obama son who had been a gangster and served time. He was a U.S. senator and a Harvard graduate. If there was a leading light in the Obama clan, then he was it. And if there was a shadowed place that no one liked to talk about, then I guess that was me.

THOMPKINS: There's no particular schedule to George Obama's day. But riding around with him in the car is kind of fun. It's like being in a music video.

(Soundbite of music)

THOMPKINS: George is always on the lookout for donations to his soccer team and for children in the slum. He says that's why he wrote the book. He needs the money and the exposure for himself and his projects. He's equally candid about why anyone would be interested in a guy like him - including the reporter in the back seat. Near the end of the ride, George turned and asked: Do you want to meet my brother?

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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