There is 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.
– Michelle Obama, Becoming
I first picked up Becoming over a year ago. For various reasons, I kept finding myself distracted by other things. Something came available at the library, I had a book club selection to get through, and, if I’m being honest with myself, it was just depressing to read. Not because of the tone of the book, but because of the current tone of America. Cracking open Becoming brought me back to a nostalgic time when my Country had the cool, measured leadership of a caring family. A family that believed all American citizens were worthy of a voice. A family that read books, celebrated individuality, and understood the gravity of the position they held in American society. A family that understood the sheer power in words, the power to cut deeply and the power to heal. That’s all I’m going to say, because I don’t want to make this about the current occupant of the White House. That would be a slap in the face to the beautiful piece of literature that Michelle Obama has created.
Becoming is broken into 3 parts. The first, Becoming Me, centers on her growth as a person before meeting Barack. It follows her from childhood in the South side of Chicago on to Princeton as she learns to define herself. Readers are immersed in intimate details of how it felt to always feel out of place, never really fitting in completely in any world in which she found herself. She lays bear insecurities that any of us could understand, as we all have them. I grew to love Michelle’s family and friends, and I felt the heartbreak when she encountered loss, often way too soon. It’s easy to see how she came to be so resilient in heart and mind.
The second part, titled Becoming Us, shows her journey with Barack prior to his tenure as President. This section resonates so completely with many working women. Michelle is brutally honest about her struggle to remain true to herself while finding her place as a wife and mother, often finding her own desires and choices swallowed by her husband’s rapid transitions in his career. She vents her frustrations about feeling alone and apprehensive about Barack’s potential entrance into the political sphere, something for which Michelle had nothing but disdain. All the while, her narrative is infused with nothing but admiration for his intellect and his thirst to do good in the world no matter what it costs him. Theirs is a very authentic and inspiring love story. Nothing is perfect, but it’s still right. And much of marriage is about perseverance, never losing sight of the things you originally loved about a person no matter how much difficulty you face later on.
The third section was, I felt, often the more tiresome section. In Becoming More there is a lot of campaigning and details about life in the White House, navigating an environment that is simultaneously steeped in privilege and suffocation. Many of the events discussed I remember quite vividly, and it was fascinating to get a look inside. There are a lot of beautiful, touching moments in this section which saves it from the occasional monotony of the politics. It’s also the saddest section, because as the book drew to a close I knew what was to come. Despite knowing how the story ends, I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread. But Michelle has a way of infusing hope into even the darkest of times.
Every section of this memoir is made better by the lyricism of Obama’s prose and the authenticity of her voice. She’s an amazing human who approaches life with a humble appreciation for what it means simply to exist. She never wanted power or influence, but she managed to do wonderful things upon obtaining both. Overall, this book is inspiring and infinitely quotable. It’s definitely one to keep and cherish, a book to pull off the shelf when life feels a little too weighty.
I want to end this on a very happy note. I found myself worried about Michelle’s beloved garden, so I did a little research to find out how completely the Obama’s legacy was wiped out by the current administration. *I’m happy to report that the garden still stands. The garden is not maintained by the Trump family, but Michelle arranged for private funding and maintenance by the National Park Service before leaving the White House. I choose to see this as a symbol that there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. Perhaps I should end it with Obama’s own words, as she says it much more eloquently than I ever could.
Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.
– Michelle Obama
5 Stars for this stunning memoir.
*Friedman, Sarah. “Here’s How the Garden Michelle Obama Started is Faring in Melania Trump’s Hands.” Bustle. Sept. 15, 2018.