Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

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Hurray! Exams are over and so, driven by the hype and my interest in American politics, I decided to tuck myself in for one last book this year.

Becoming is Michelle Obama’s autobiography published last month. The former First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) talks about everything; from growing up in Southside Chicago, going to Princeton, becoming a lawyer, meeting her husband and supporting his political ambitions, having kids and finding her voice.

It’s the highest selling book of 2018 in the US with over 1.4 million copies sold within the first week! A personal memoir on her family life, Michelle details losing her father to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the death of her best friend to cancer, the struggle to have kids, her miscarriages, difficulty adapting to Barack’s demanding schedule, parenting and marital life. She also talks about learning from her mistakes, her time in the White House, growing a thick skin in politics and her efforts to make a difference in public health.

Childhood
Michelle paints a very vivid picture of living in a small house with her parents and brother and growing up
on Chicago’s South Side. She communicates perfectly the beauty of communal living, being taught to play the piano by an aunt, visiting her grandparents and what it was like to be African American. She shed light on the limitations of the school system and her mother’s effort to improve the quality of her education.

As at school. I was ambitious, though I didn’t know exactly what I was shooting for. Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.

Career
Despite being a prominent woman with access to the most powerful people in the world, I admire her humble and continuous admission of self-doubt, up until the Presidential Inauguration in 2009. She neither had a life plan nor envisioned where she eventually found herself. In my opinion, she worked hard, did the best she could with what she had and followed her heart a lot of the time.

So far in my life, I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve been a vice president at a hospital and the director of a nonprofit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working-class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman, the only African American, in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed-out new mother, a daughter torn up by grief. And until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined.

Meeting Her Husband
This was such a pleasure to read. I enjoyed how simply she expressed the fact that a simple “Yes” to mentoring an intern changed the course of her life. The easy way they met, how she tried to hook him up with other women and how she started to see him differently and realised she liked him. Nothing romanticised or exaggerated, just sincerity. It was so good I cried. And yes, love and ice-cream go very well together.

“Should we get some ice cream?” he said.

This is when I knew the game was on, one of the few times I decided to stop thinking and just live. It was a warm summer evening in the city that I loved. The air felt soft on my skin. There was a Baskin-Robbins on the block near Barack’s apartment, and we got ourselves two cones, taking them outside to eat… Maybe Barack read it on my face or sensed it in my posture—the fact that everything for me had now begun to loosen and unfold.

He was looking at me curiously, with the trace of a smile. “Can I kiss you?” he asked. And with that, I leaned in and everything felt clear”.

Her Father’s Death
I can’t decide if it’s her brilliant expression of her loss and pain or my fearful state of mind due to my aunt’s recent passing but I cried a little here. I tried to hold down the hardball in my throat as Fraser Robinson held his daughter’s hand and kissed it for the last time but it hit too close to home. Lately, I’ve been more aware of how close death is and live with the constant fear that one day my turn will come.

Funny thing is, just then I received a text from my dad saying he was praying for me. The coincidence made my feelings so intense I had to stop reading for the day. That said, I’m so grateful my dad is still here.

Marriage and Miscarriages
Michelle laid it all out with details about their struggle to conceive and her miscarriages and she did not hold back about the difficulty of motherhood and the resentment she felt towards Barack because of his continuous absence due to his work location and schedule. To save their marriage, they sought professional counselling to overcome their differences.

I now tried out a new hypothesis: It was possible that I was more in charge of my happiness than I was allowing myself to be. I was too busy resenting Barack… I spent so much energy stewing over whether or not he’d make it home for dinner that dinners, with or without him, were no longer fun. 

This was my pivot point, my moment of self-arrest. Like a climber about to slip off an icy peak, I drove my axe into the ground. That isn’t to say that Barack didn’t make his own adjustments— counselling helped him to see the gaps in how we communicated, and he worked to be better at it—but I made mine, and they helped me, which then helped us.

Motherhood at 40
This part made me very happy, knowing that contrary to our African culture, you are never late to your destiny or divine plan. I’m a firm believer that when the time is right, things will come together and we will get through whatever hurdle life presents.

Sasha and Malia were three and six years old now, feisty, smart, and growing fast… There were times when I’d sit in the parked car and eat my fast food alone with the car radio playing, overcome with relief, impressed with my efficiency. This was life with little kids. This was what sometimes passed for achievement. I had the applesauce. I was eating a meal. Everyone was still alive. 

Look how I’m managing, I wanted to say in those moments, to my audience of no one. Does everyone see that I’m pulling this off?

This was me at the age of forty, a little bit June Cleaver, a little bit Mary Tyler Moore. On my better days, I gave myself credit for making it happen. The balance of my life was elegant only from a distance, and only if you squinted, but there was at least something there that resembled balance.

Endorsing His Presidential Campaign
She talks about politics, her dislike for it and its effect on their family life before the presidency. I was particularly taken by her support for her husband’s decision to run even when she didn’t like the idea or believe that he could win. It reinforces the notion that love is about giving people what they want, not what you think they should have.

In the end, it boiled down to this: I said yes because I believed that Barack could be a great president. He was self-assured in ways that few people are. He had the intellect and discipline to do the job, the temperament to endure everything that would make it hard, and the rare degree of empathy that would keep him tuned carefully to the country’s needs. He was also surrounded by good, smart people who were ready to help. Who was I to stop him? How could I put my own needs, and even those of our girls, in front of the possibility that Barack could be the kind of president who helped make life better for millions of people? 

I said yes because I loved him and had faith in what he could do.

I said yes, though I was at the same time harboring a painful thought, one I wasn’t ready to share: I supported him in campaigning, but I also felt certain he wouldn’t make it all the way. He spoke so often and so passionately of healing our country’s divisions, appealing to a set of higher ideals he believed were innate in most people. But I’d seen enough of the divisions to temper my own hopes. Barack was a black man in America, after all. I didn’t really think he could win.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office, Dec. 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Her Mistakes and Her Critics
Michelle talks about how she was criticized by women and fellow African Americans, and portrayed in the media as the “angry black woman“. She shared how much it hurt that her speech was edited and used against her by the Republican party to hurt her husband’s campaign.  In addition, she elaborates on the intense scrutiny she was under while in office, from her outfit to her hair and decorum, how she erroneously touched Her Majesty, The Queen of England and the media backlash.

Her Passion
Michelle sheds light on how public health became her passion, stemming about her father’s silent struggle with MS, and her quest for to combat childhood obesity in the country arising from early onset of childhood obesity in her daughter Malia’s. She talks about her position on gun violence and the battle with the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is interesting to know that a bright sunny day could be a sign of trouble for children in some parts of the US.

Tell Mrs. Obama,” she said. “What goes through your mind when you wake up in the morning and hear the weather forecast is eighty and sunny?” … A day like that, the Harper students all agreed, was no good. When the weather was nice, the gangs got more active and the shooting got worse.

On girl child education, Michelle expressed her shock that in parts of the world it is believed that educating girls is a waste of resources even though studies have shown that educating girls and women boosts a country’s GDP. My heart would have been jumping for joy if only Boko Haram wasn’t the reason Nigeria was mentioned in this book. (Sigh)

I was horrified when, about six months after Malala’s visit, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the extremist group Boko Haram, seemingly intent on causing other Nigerian families to fear sending their daughters to school. It had prompted me, for the first and only time during the presidency, to sub for Barack during his weekly address to the nation, speaking emotionally about how we needed to work harder at protecting and encouraging girls worldwide.

On Trump Winning
Michelle reiterates that Hillary Clinton won with nearly three million more votes than President Trump. She does not hide her disapproval of the new president for many personal reasons and wished more people had voted differently, stating that she can’t understand why women didn’t vote for the female candidate but chose a misogynist for president. She concludes by saying she has no intention to run for office and never liked politics. Frankly, politics is Obama’s thing.

Summarily, it’s a moving and delightful book to read with pictures of intimate moments that give life to Michelle’s story. I recommend it for every girl or woman; single, married, career or/and family-oriented. Michelle’s life experience is so rich, this book has got something for everyone. She is incredibly relatable with a great sense of humour and will have you saying “I know right?” a lot.

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self… It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigour. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.

Definitely buy this book not just because it will make an excellent Christmas gift but it’s a well-written classic by the First African American FLOTUS and its lessons on self-development, personal growth, love, hope, marriage, career and passion will be relevant for generations.

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Have you read Becoming by Michele Obama? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!

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