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Obama's half brother bases novel on his life


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POSTED: Wednesday, November 04, 2009

GUANGZHOU, China » President Barack Obama's half brother has broken his media silence to discuss his new novel—the semiautobiographical story of an abusive parent patterned on their late father, the mostly absent figure Obama wrote about in his own memoir.

Mark Ndesandjo said he wrote “;Nairobi to Shenzhen”; in part to raise awareness of domestic violence.

“;My father beat my mother and my father beat me, and you don't do that,”; said Ndesandjo, whose mother, Ruth Nidesand, was Barack Obama Sr.'s third wife. “;It's something which I think affected me for a long time, and it's something that I've just recently come to terms with.”;

Like his novel's main character, Ndesandjo had an American mother who is Jewish and who divorced his Kenyan father. The novel, which goes on sale today by the self-publishing company Aventine Press, is one of several books in the works by relatives of the president.

President Obama's parents separated two years after he was born in Hawaii in 1961. The senior Obama, a Kenyan exchange student, divorced the president's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in 1964 and had at least six other children in his native Kenya.

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For the past seven years, Ndesandjo has been living in Shenzhen, China, and has refused all interview requests until now.

Ndesandjo, who said he attended Obama's inauguration as a family guest, declined to discuss his earliest memories of the president or describe their relationship over the years. However, he said he plans to meet his brother in Beijing when the president makes his first visit to China on Nov. 15-18.

“;My plan is to introduce my wife to him. She is his biggest fan,”; he said.

Shortly after divorcing the president's mother, Obama Sr. met Nidesand while studying as a graduate student at Harvard University. Nidesand returned with Obama Sr. to his native Kenya in 1965, where Mark and his brother David were born and grew up. David later died in a motorcycle accident.

In Kenya, Obama Sr. also had four children with his first wife, Kezia, some of them while he was still married to Nidesand. Nidesand and Obama Sr. eventually divorced amid allegations of domestic abuse. Nidesand returned to the United States and later married a man whose surname Mark Ndesandjo took.

Obama Sr. died in an automobile accident in 1982 at age 46.

President Obama saw his father only once after his parents' divorce, when he was 10 years old.

In a best-selling memoir, “;Dreams from My Father,”; Obama wrote about his fatherless upbringing. He described a visit to Kenya to meet his half siblings and learn more about his father. While painting his father as abusive, he called Obama Sr. a gifted but erratic alcoholic who never lived up to his intellectual promise or his family responsibilities.

Obama, in his book, also quotes Ndesandjo criticizing their father, saying, “;I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife and children. That was enough.”;

Ndesandjo, who is an American citizen, spent most of his childhood in Kenya before moving to the U.S. to go to college and work in telecommunications and marketing. He has a bachelor's degree from Brown University in physics and a master's degree in the same subject from Stanford University. He also earned an MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, he said.

Intensely private, Ndesandjo declined to answer several questions about himself. He even refused to give his age, saying only that “;I'm younger than Barack.”;

Ndesandjo moved to China after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when his job was cut in the rocky U.S. economy. He taught English, immersed himself in the study of Chinese culture and volunteered as a piano teacher at an orphanage.

He now speaks Mandarin and said he earns a living as a consultant in strategic marketing, though he would not elaborate on his business.

Ndesandjo said the White House was aware of the book project. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Ndesandjo's interview or to discuss President Obama's relationship with his half brother.

The novel never mentions a half brother who would become the first black U.S. president.

Ndesandjo said he didn't want to touch on any political themes in the book. “;I think my brother's team is doing an extraordinary job, and I really don't want to cause him additional heartburn,”; he said.

Another of the president's half brothers, George Obama, 27, of Huruma, Kenya, has penned a memoir that will be published by Simon & Schuster in January.

Other Obama relatives working on books include a half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, daughter of Obama's mother and her second husband, Lolo Soetoro; and Craig Robinson, first lady Michelle Obama's brother.