U.S. President Barack Obama's half-brother gestures as he speaks during an interview at a hotel in Beijing, China
BEIJING — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he met briefly with a half brother who lives in China and who recently wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about the abusive Kenyan father they share.
Obama, who spent three days in China during his first official tour of Asia, acknowledged the meeting in an interview with CNN. He offered no details. An aide said later that the meeting took place Monday night after Obama arrived in Beijing, the Chinese capital.
The White House had declined to say whether the president and Mark Ndesandjo would meet. And no White House official mentioned the visit until Obama did when asked about it.
“I don’t know him well. I met him for the first time a couple of years ago,” Obama told CNN. “He stopped by with his wife for about five minutes during the trip.”
Describing the meeting as “overwhelming” and “intense,” Ndesandjo told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he had long anticipated the chance to welcome his famous brother to China.
“I think he came directly off the plane, changed some clothes and then came down and saw us,” Ndesandjo said. “And he just gave me a big hug. And it was so intense. I’m still over the moon on it. I am over the moon. And my wife. She is his biggest fan and I think she is still recovering.”
In the CNN interview, Obama said he hadn’t read his brother’s book, “Nairobi to Shenzhen,” which features a protagonist who is the son of a Jewish mother and an abusive father from Kenya.
Ndesandjo has revealed in previous interviews that his father, Barack Obama Sr., beat him and his mother. The president also wrote about his father, who abandoned him as a child, in his best-selling memoir.
“It’s no secret that my father was a troubled person,” Obama said. “Anybody who has read my first book, ‘Dreams from My Father,’ knows that, you know, he had an alcoholism problem, that he didn’t treat his families very well. Obviously it’s a sad part of my history and my background but it’s not something I spend a lot of time brooding over.”
Ndesandjo said he bought tickets months ago to fly from the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, where he has lived since 2002, to Beijing, in hopes of reconnecting with his brother. The two last met in January when Ndesandjo attended Obama’s inauguration as a family guest.
The three chatted on Monday, with Obama being introduced to Ndesandjo’s wife, a native of Henan, China, whom he married a year ago, he said. He gave few details of what they discussed.
“All I can say is, we talked about family, and it was very powerful because when he came in through that door, and I saw him and I hugged him, and he hugged me and hugged my wife. It was like we were continuing a conversation that had started many years ago,” he said.
The two men did not grow up together. Ndesandjo’s mother, Ruth Nidesand, was Barack Obama Sr.’s third wife. Before arriving in Beijing on Monday, Obama had been in a townhall-style meeting with students in Shanghai, and joked that a family gathering at his house “looks like the United Nations.”