Book Review – Becoming (Michelle Obama)

Book jacket Becoming Michelle Obama biography

I found the bulk of the book interesting and some of it a tad drawn-out.

From the Goodreads synopsis
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. 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.

The review
Michelle Obama’s Becoming is divided into three parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More. The memoir was an interesting read with certain parts being particularly engrossing.

Family, friends, and other important issues
The first section starts with her childhood, where she lets the reader into her modest family home on the South Side of Chicago. We meet her parents, older brother Craig, and her aunt Robbie whose apartment they shared. Her brother is her shield, until she finally succeeds in stepping out from his protective shadow in high school. She shares her parents’ open-minded parenting style, mentioning that they raised adults and not kids.

It’s clear that friendship is something that the former First Lady values (Michelle often mentions people she knew back then who would then go on to be famous or successful) as the phrase “who would go on to become a lifelong friend” [not verbatim] is used more than once.

In my South African (SA) opinion, she did not grow up dirt poor (she had Barbies as a child and went on to study full-time at university, already two things that I never experienced), although she had less than many of her peers. Because of this, it is firstly, almost a miracle that she ended up becoming the FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States), and secondly, proof that anybody can achieve anything.

In addition to sharing her family life, Michelle covers topics such as being different, finding your voice, self-doubt (the question ‘Am I enough?’ is a thread that runs through the biography) and racism.

It was wonderful to read about her studies and different career paths, showing her as more than Barack Obama’s wife.

Grammar Nazi
The editor in me is a tad critical of certain phrases I came across, although this may be SA English vs USA English. Example 1: “… school got out early” on page 61. Suggestion: “… school ended early”. Example 2: “When it came time to look at colleges…” on page 65. Suggestion: “When the time came to look at colleges…”

A sucker for good quotes
That’s the negative. A big positive is the really beautiful and thought-provoking quotes:

Failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result.

and

You don’t really know how attached you are until you move away, until you’ve experienced what it means to be dislodged, a cork floating on the ocean of another place.

Love and loss
In the self-explanatory “Becoming Us” the former FLOTUS is honest about letting her guard down and her feelings for Barack, and how much she admires him.

When it comes to death and leaving things too late, the author gives the reader lots to ponder.

Tear-jerkers
I wouldn’t describe Becoming as an emotional read, but certain phrases caught me unawares. A section on page 164 quickly filled my eyes with tears; the part about Barack becoming president on page 279 had a similar effect; and the first paragraph on page 346 had me bawling my eyes out.

Straight-talking and suspenseful
The Chicago law firm Sidley Austen, where Michelle worked as a lawyer, got some negative comments. I wonder how they feel about it?

The straight-talking continues as she speaks openly about the challenges faced and the lows of their marriage during Barack’s campaigns.

And when it comes to the moments before he was elected as president, she succeeds in creating suspense, despite the fact that we all (obviously) know the outcomes.

Picture perfect
I really enjoyed the photo section, as it was great to put faces to the (now familiar) names, and to see the couple before they became POTUS and FLOTUS.

The most fun part of the last section is the beginning of chapter 22, which literally had my mouth hanging open. Read it for yourself!

Overall
I enjoyed Becoming. The sections about her childhood, family, friendships, career, and (personal) life in the White House were my favourites. I did not enjoy all of the long-winded explanations about bar exams and political campaigns. Having my own opinions and perhaps being influenced by comments from my peers like “don’t believe everything you see on the news”, I read certain sections with a tiny pinch of salt. Michelle Obama’s response to South Africa and meeting leaders such as Madiba and Desmond Tutu was heartwarming. Fans of the Obamas and I think the US audience especially, would love this book. It’s revealing of Michelle Obama, the human being.

4 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books
Year: 2018

 

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