The Woman Who Campaigned for Obama

July 31, 2010  |  

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Till You Hear From Me, the latest work by bestselling author Pearl Cleage, takes readers back to those euphoric days following the 2008 presidential election.

Thirty-something year old Ida B. Wells Dunbar worked hard for the Barack Obama campaign, but is currently unemployed—having been overlooked for a job in the new administration—and she has the unenviable task of trying to babysit her father, the civil rights icon Revered Horace A. Dunbar. Complicating matters is the arrival of Ida’s Hot but nefarious teenage crush Wes Harper who is color blind unless green is involved.

Rev, as Ida’s father is affectionately known, has decided to join the ranks of Tavis Smiley, Reverend Jesse Jackson and others who aren’t exactly doing backflips about Obama’s historic victory. He has been talking smack about the new president and has positioned himself as the friend of any of Obama’s enemies.  His ramblings might have cost Ida her dream job at the White House and she is determined to shut him up before he sullies his legacy beyond repair.

Cleage has a deep well of personal experiences to draw from for her main character.  Her father, Albert Buford Cleage (later  known as Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) was a minister, civil rights activist and a pioneer in black theology. She knows what it means to share a daddy with a legion of followers.  The relationship between father and daughter in Till You Hear From Me is a highlight of the story.

How good the rest of the tale is depends on your storytelling preferences. Cleage is not one for subtlety. Ida’s chapters are written in first-person. The rest are written in third-person omniscient. The result is that every thought, motive and sinister plan is explicitly stated on the page. There is very little intrigue or guess work, which is unusual for a novel that is at least partially about politics.

In addition to there being no surprises, the bad guys are cartoonishly bad. The “good guys” are delightfully presented in full color with details that make them into real people. The contrast with the evil characters is striking.  It’s like casting Jeffrey Wright alongside Dr. Claw.

Surely some Madames prefer stories with clear good and bad characters and a plot that is not too mind-bending, but some Madames like a twist or two.  If you’re in the former category, Til You Hear From Me is the book for you.

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