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Obama’s Dream, Hitler’s Struggle, and Mussolini’s Memoirs

“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.”
–Albert Camus

The memoir is a unique form of creative nonfiction. By definition, it is a branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing, with or offering opinions of conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history and the essay (as opposed to fiction and distinguished from poetry and drama).

Most readers will approach a memoir with a ready suspension of willing disbelief, assuming that the author is being completely truthful and has no hidden agenda. However, the fact remains that anyone who publishes any type of manuscript always has a goal in mind. Some write for profit or prestige. Others compose simply to entertain or to prove a point. Whatever the motivation, any form of narrative is aimed towards a potential audience. This includes even private journals that serve as a feedback loop to gauge personal growth and development of perspective.

The recent revelation by the credible biographer, David Mariniss, that Obama’s portrayal of the girlfriend of his college days in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, is fictional may not seem like a big deal for many of the politician’s devoted supporters, but from a purely critical literary point of view, it means a lot. Or, at least, it should.

Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian Nobel Laureate, once said: “In journalism, just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work.” If this is true, than Obama’s autobiography is not to be taken at face value by the discerning reader. His confession is disingenuous at best and blatantly deceitful at worst. His agenda for publishing the memoir is debatable.

Hitler’s  Mein Kampf, by comparison, is more honest. He wrote it while imprisoned and needed money. It was also a brutal, anti semetic diatribe that meticulously outlined and attempted to definitively define Germany’s National Socialist Party’s platform vis-à-vis the current world political stage of his era. No punches were held back. Hitler virulently shook his iron fist in the face of his perceived enemies, openly confessing his insane obsessions which fanned the flames of his nation’s indignation with regards to the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and left Germany crippled and humiliated, both economically and politically. The royalties garnished from the book also allowed him to purchase a Mercedes-Benz while still incarcerated.

Mussolini’s memoir, My Rise and Fall, is another narcissistic account of an ambitious young politico’s soul baring confession to the world. Amazon’s blurb describes this book as being about “Mussolini’s youth, years as an agitator and journalist, experiences in World War I, the formation and revolutionary struggles of the Fascist Party, the March on Rome, and his early years in power.” Sound familiar yet?

My, my, my. The dominant possessive pronoun found in the title of all three of these creative, nonfiction memoirs. Themes of personal struggle against an unjust society. Facts and fantasies construed in order to achieve a personal agenda and to justify a political one for the sake of saving humanity. There’s nothing like a good self-effacing piece of propaganda to clear one’s conscience, perhaps make some money and pave the way to power even if it plagues humanity in the long run.

About John H. Byk