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Nairobi to Shenzhen [Book Reveiw]

Nairobi to Shenzhen
“China occupies my mind at first like a hazy image
of people and places —
distant, in some hidden valley
of my consciousness...
And the women are another story.
Can I have Chinese girlfriends
— or is it illegal?”

Quoted from the first pages of Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo's book Nairobi To Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East.

nairobi to shenzhen

The book earned a flash of notoriety on its initial publication in 2009 because the book's author is none other than the American President Barak Obama's half brother.

Did you know the US President’s half brother lives in Shenzhen?

Not only that but he Barak Obama’s brother has a passion for China and a ‘how I arrived here’ story that is not only insightful but entertaining too, though scattered and long-winded at times.

Well, it’s a partially true story—an autobiographical novel—but that goes with the territory, doesn’t it. Much it seems, when speaking about China, is partially true.

In Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo's novel, the reader gets to explore the world through the eye's of Barack Obama's half brother, a man who found his own way to self-discovery and healing and lays it all out in his China-centric book covering his marriage to a Chinese women and experiences in Shenzhen.

Ndesandjo’s connection to Shenzhen is sprinkled throughout the book. His experiences in Shenzhen inspiring reminiscent mental glimpses of his past, his father, his life.

Shenzhen may be the muse that binds the book together, in a tale spanning multiple continents and shifts through time.

Ndesandjo decided to move from the United States to China shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, a move that in some ways can be considered a quest, as, by his own account, he was struggling to understand himself when he lost his job at Lucent, a telecommunications equipment company.

Ndesandjo managed to build a modest but successful life in China.

He started teaching English as a second language, a common first step for many foreign-born settlers in China, and started teaching orphans how to play the piano.

However, the Nairobi to Shenzhen tells us, things started to change when Ndesandjo fell in love.

After marrying a Chinese woman he met along his travels, Ndesandjo became overwhelmed by memories from his early childhood, both in Kenya and the United States.

He couldn't help but notice the parallels between his new life and the life he experienced as a young boy.

In a world on the brink of global war, Ndesandjo was reminded of the strife he witnessed as a young child in Kenya.

He also began to think about fatherhood, leading him to question his own father's actions and behaviors. Ndesandjo was the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of his father.

The trauma he suffered in childhood inspired him to write Nairobi to Shenzhen in an effort to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Even though he and his brother were born to different mothers, they shared the same--according to this book--abusive father.

In his book, Njdesandjo explores questions about what motivated his father to treat his family in harmful ways; moreover, he starts to understand how his father's actions had profoundly affected him throughout his life.

Shortly after filing for divorce from the President's mother, Barack Obama senior met Ruth Nidesand while studying at Harvard University. After moving back to Kenya, the couple had two children, Ndesandjo and David Obama. David, however, died tragically in a car accident years ago.

A turbulent and abusive relationship ensued, the couple finally separated and then later divorced. Ndesandjo, and his family, returned to the United States.

Ndesandjo started a promising and exciting life after moving to the U.S: He worked hard throughout his college career, earning a degree in physics and an M.B.A. from Emory University.

Ndesandjo also started learning how to play classical piano during this time, a talent he is still perfecting to this day.

After a long corporate career in the U.S., Ndesandjo left a corporate position just after the 9/11 attacks. Obama senior married twice, in addition to the two children he had with Ndesandjo's mother, he also had four children with his first wife.

Although, the President Obama did discuss his father in his own memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance --Ndesandjo tale paints a different picture of Barack Obama senior.

To be fair, unlike Ndesandjo, President Obama did not have a close relationship with Barack Obama senior. Records suggest that President Obama only saw his father one time following their parent's divorce.

Ndesandjo portrays Obama senior as a drunk who failed to live up to his responsibilities as a father and a husband.

Through his process of self-discovery and healing, Ndesandjo created a diary written by his father. A cathartic exercise used to make peace with his memory for the man who had put him and his family through so many hardships.

To avoid his father's mistakes, Ndesandjo takes down the walls he had built around himself knowing that his father had built the same walls and allowed his heart to grow cold, a cycle Ndesandjo was determined to not repeat.

Throughout the novel, Ndesandjo illustrates his perspectives on life in China with descriptions that anyone living in Southern China can relate, for example, this dental-like musing:

“Although Hong Kong lies just across the narrow bay from Shenzhen, the ostensibly simple trip is complicated by border checks… When one exits the subway in Hong Kong one may be forgiven for feeling one is stepping into a sloppy, though relatively, clean mouth.”

To the end, the novel bounces between letters, recollections, quotes from other books and wisdom traditions, and ultimately attempts a synthesis of deep reflections on Ndesandjo's life journey.

Shenzhen the muse, the canvass, the reflector.
Shenzhen, a place of endings and beginnings.
A land of immigrants.
A place for love. A lovely place.
Opportunity.
Failing forward.
Crashing in.
Moving up.
And,
finally
...Love and Healing of One's Past...


This is how Shenzhen appears between the pages of Ndesandjo's novel:

Nairobi To Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East



Editor's Note: After sending the above review to Mark Ndesandjo to take a look he wanted to make clear that he has never been involved in the Muwu BBQ franchise. This was erroneously reported in other media. Mark instead runs an investment investment firm focusing on China, the USA and Africa.

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