Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

December 22, 2018

Edition: Viking Hardback
Release Date: November 13th, 2018
Pages: 426
Genre: Memoir
Source: Bought

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. 

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Almost as if knowing we’d desperately need her hope and her compassion more than ever during what many of us would describe as a disheartening time in history, Becoming feels like Michelle’s parting gift to us. Her way of saying ‘I feel it too and I’m still with you.’ God knows I have missed the Obama’s.

There is no doubt that aside from being one of the most beloved First Ladies in US history and the first to be African-American, Michelle Obama is an extraordinary woman with many momentous accomplishments and feats of her own worthy of recognition. Her seemingly endless supply of empathy, intelligence, and ambition – all which have and continue to act as a major force of good in this world – have inspired many women (especially those of colour) all over the world. Becoming shows us how Michelle became this formidable woman, taking readers on an intimate journey of her life in Elucid Avenue in Chicago as the daughter to Marian and Fraser Robinson to the White House in Washington. 

Becoming is everything I could have wished for and more. It is lengthy but not exhaustive, inspirational but not preachy, and hopeful yet not dismissive. By sharing her story intimately and in her own words, we get to see how undeniably human Michelle Obama is. You'd think it difficult to relate to or resonate with a woman who had countless people waiting on her every beck and call at all times for eight years and yet somehow, by the end of the book Michelle feels like a dear friend, a wise mentor, and your comforting yet no-nonsense mother all at once – whose warmth and sincerity is one of the most beautiful takeaways of this memoir. 

This isn’t a story about politics and power but rather a story about community and connection. Of course, her husband’s well-known political journey can’t be excluded nor separated from this story. But in this particular version of that story, Michelle takes centre stage. Not out of a desire to finally have the limelight but because simply put, she deserves to be heard. The evolution of Michelle Obama is somewhat of a modern fairy-tale, one with huge social, political, and historical significance. 

The young Michelle Robinson who played nervously at Piano recitals anxious to do her very best in front of a large and often critical audience lives on in the Michelle Obama we know today. We, the reader, feel humbled in seeing her remain true to herself. Her trajectory from the start of the memoir to its end sees Michelle never once straying from the woman she was raised to be but instead blooming into the strongest possible version of herself. In sharing her story, Michelle is illuminating the way for other women and girls like her. Making it known that the success and happiness seemingly reserved for the more privileged, is possible. That these women and girls are more than worthy. 

There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.

Sometimes it’s easy to discount women like Michelle Obama as one of ‘the lucky ones’, but through sharing with us such in-depth glimpses of her childhood and family life, it is clear that she comes from our world. Whilst reading Becoming I often paused to marvel over the way Michelle so casually managed to transform a childhood memory or feeling into such a poignant story. She reminisced and recalled with purpose. She is a wonderful and very skilled writer. The woman we grew to love via television appearances and press releases is the woman who presents herself in this memoir. It was never an act or a strategic political ploy, she simply is that fabulous!

Never the less, co-existing with the triumphs and the glamour, were the more difficult parts of her journey. Even before the public scrutiny and the thinly-veiled racism, Michelle had things to overcome. She did not come from a well-off family, she was not always believed in by those around her, she experienced grief, an isolating miscarriage, career unhappiness, marriage counselling, conflict between fulfilling her ambitions as a woman and her role as a full-time Mother to daughters of an overly-committed, overly-ambitious and increasingly occupied changemaker.

Two of the other big takeaways from Becoming are that 1) Michelle and Barack Obama were always destined for greatness, their roles as influencers of change beginning long before the White House and 2) while a privilege and dream for many, living in the White House involved a lot of personal sacrifices. Especially for Michelle who struggled to raise her two daughters Malia and Sasha under the public gaze, the two girls needing secret service men to stand guard outside their classroom and any playdates they had. I can only imagine what sort of impact this had on Malia and Sasha growing up and it is clear that Michelle’s main priority was to ensure her children felt safe yet able to find some sort of normalcy. I don’t think many of us ever consider the downside of such a position but what comes across in Becoming is that in some ways it isn’t the ideal life. Even as a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard, nothing could have prepared Michelle for her most challenging role yet. 

Having seen the country in both of its extremes, Michelle believes the only way forward is to let each other in. Without doing so, the way forward is unclear. She deals with her new role with humility yet shows a determination not to be a passive and forgettable First Lady. Doing what she can, where she can, she strives to connect with and learn with as many people as possible - whilst loving and supporting her husband wholeheartedly. We get to see this firsthand in Becoming. 

But removing the politics and the wealth, Becoming is at its heart a story about a woman becoming who she is destined to be against all odds with the help of family, friends, mentors and others who supported and nurtured her throughout her journey as she is thrown into a terrifying and instruction-less position. It’s surprising in its honesty and rewarding in its wisdom. You will feel a vast spectrum of emotions whilst reading it and you’ll be saddened when the last page is turned. It feels like saying goodbye to a friend. Michelle teaches us to stand before those that are different than us and to embrace the ways in which we are the same. In today’s world, I don’t think there’s any message more important.
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. The journey doesn’t end.

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