A new biography about President Obama sheds light on a little-known part of his life – his college and post-college years in New York – through the letters and journals of two women – Alex McNear, whom Obama met at Occidental College before transferring to Columbia, and Genevieve Cook, the daughter of a prominent Australian diplomat.
Details of the 1980s romance between Genevieve Cook and a 20-something Obama in New York were excerpted by “Vanity Fair” magazine on Wednesday from a forthcoming book called “Barack Obama: The Story” by David Maraniss, a Pulitzer prize-winning author.
Letters that Mr Obama sent to Ms McNear and journal entries by Ms Cook show a serious young man trying to come to terms with his racial identity and place in modern American society, The Telegraph says.
In one diary entry from February 1984, Ms Cook writes that in their relationship “the sexual warmth is definitely there – but the rest of it has sharp edges and I’m finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all”.
The woman also recalled “feeling anger” at Mr Obama, whose “warmth can be deceptive”. Foreshadowing a criticism often levelled at the President today, she said: “Though he speaks sweet words there is also that coolness.”
“I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness — and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me,” she wrote in one entry in February 1984.
Ms. Cook remembered how she met “Barry” at a Christmas party in 1983. After drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream from the bottle, she chatted with him on an orange beanbag, before exchanging telephone numbers.
Her journal describes a 22-year-old man wearing “a comfy T-shirt depicting buxom women”, and was marked by the smells of “running sweat, Brut spray deodorant, smoking, eating raisins, sleeping, breathing”.
Ms Cook “engaged [Mr Obama] in the deepest romantic relationship of his young life,” Maraniss says. He writes that “when she told him that she loved him, his response was not ‘I love you, too’ but ‘thank you’—as though he appreciated that someone loved him.”
Reflecting on the “emotional scarring” that made him hard to get close to, she wrote when the couple split: “I guess I hoped time would change things, and he’d let go and ‘fall in love’ with me”
In her journal entries Cook tries to understand Obama. “How is he so old already, at the age of 22?” she asked herself. “I have to recognise (despite play of wry and mocking smile on lips) that I find his thereness very threatening.”
Another entry claims that there was “so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach,” adding that Mr Obama was “guarded, controlled.”
In her diary Cook is predicting Obama’s eventual marriage to first lady Michelle Obama. “I can’t help thinking that what he would really want, be powerfully drawn to, was a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced—a black woman I keep seeing her as,” she wrote.
As for Alex McNear, another Obama’s former girlfriend, she revealed an attempt at literary criticism by the young Mr Obama, whom she had met at Occidental University in California, where they had both been studying.
The two were inseparable during the summer of 1982 in New York, following Mr Obama’s transfer to the city’s Columbia University, and continued to correspond after Ms McNear returned to Los Angeles.
In one exchange, Mr Obama gave a densely-written opinion on T.S. Eliot, on whom Ms McNear was writing a thesis. “There’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism,” he wrote. “Eliot is of this type.”
Maraniss – whose book is excerpted in the new issue of Vanity Fair magazine – thinks that Mr Obama was “obsessed with the concept of choice”, musing: “Did he have real choices in his life? Did he have free will?”
Cook’s diary entries, as well as McNear’s, will be in a new biography by David Maraniss called ‘Barack Obama: The Story.’ It will be published next month, ABC News reports.