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Michelle Obama's brother writes a memoir

In 'A Game of Character,' college basketball coach Craig Robinson chronicles his childhood with Michelle and their parents' first impressions of Barack Obama: 'She'll eat him alive.'

April 05, 2010|By Katherine Skiba

Reporting from Washington — The news might have set off alarms in some past administrations: The president's brother-in-law has written a book.

But you won't find dirty laundry in a memoir from First Lady Michelle Obama's brother, Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson.

The book, "A Game of Character," which has a foreword by their mother, Marian Robinson, is due out April 20.

Craig Robinson writes that he and his parents didn't think Barack Obama stood much of a chance with his sister when they met him.

He and his parents were out on their porch on a hot summer night in Chicago when the couple stopped by to say hello on their way to a movie.

"Well, he's tall," Marian Robinson said while Obama was out of earshot.

"Not a bad-looking guy, either," said her husband, Fraser.

But even though the suitor struck the Robinsons as a self-possessed man with a nice smile and firm handshake, they figured he wasn't a keeper. "Too bad," Marian said. "Yep," Fraser answered. "She'll eat him alive."

Craig Robinson, 47, less than two years older than Michelle, was close to his only sibling. In childhood, they shared a bedroom separated by a divider.

Miche, as he calls her, was a disciplined, scholarly girl who saved money fastidiously, who learned to box at their father's behest and who once conspired with him, upset that their parents smoked, to destroy every last cigarette in the house.

In the book, Fraser Robinson is dubbed "Philosopher in Chief" in the foreword, and his long struggle with multiple sclerosis is treated with much compassion by his son. The father died in 1991 at age 56.

Craig Robinson writes that Obama sought his help in convincing Michelle and Marian that he should give the presidential race a go. His sister, he said, was reluctant for another campaign so soon after his 2004 election to the Senate.

After Obama became president, Michelle turned to her brother to encourage her mother to move into the White House, Marian Robinson writes in the foreword.

"As a compromise, I opted to move to the White House after all, at least temporarily -- while still reserving lots of time to travel and to maintain a certain amount of autonomy," she writes.

The book is sprinkled with life lessons on how these siblings excelled and how Craig Robinson, when confronted with challenge -- including a rocky academic start at Princeton University and a first marriage that ended in divorce -- picked himself up.

But for all the homespun stories of the family's humble roots and Robinson's climb to a top college-level coaching career (after a foray into finance), readers hungering for more about Barack and Michelle Obama may be a bit disappointed.

Robinson writes mostly about basketball, even when describing how he introduced his sister before her prime-time address at the Democratic National Convention.

"Michelle was being asked to sink a three-pointer at the buzzer in a do-or-die game at the start of the championship," he writes. "Everything to come, victory or disappointment, would hinge on this one shot. And all I could do to help was simply pass her the ball. And believe."

kskiba@tribune.com

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