Sometimes, we go to a bookshop to discover the latest story available for consumption, or if you are like me, browse the web to find the latest reviews for the good books as recommended by FANATIC readers the like of Bill Gates, Barack Obama or some cool international online media; the Times and the Guardian. Other times, a friend tells you about a book they just read and think it is a nice try. Well, welcome to the world of Michelle Obama. A history of almost half a century packed into 400 plus page-turner, Becoming is the greatest memoir of all times, at least by my measure!
The book published in November 2018 by the Crown Publishing Group entices the reader right from the prologue where Michelle defines the title in a few but deeply inspiring words. “For me,” Michelle writes, “Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously towards a better self.” For Michelle, Becoming is an endless journey. These were words from one of the most famous First Ladies and women of substance today. She says it clearly, keep on until you reach your highest potential.
The book is broken into three sections which drives the reader through with ease although sometimes, with a lot of suspense as each subsection leaves one hungrier and restless about what will happen next. In the first section which she calls “Becoming me” the reader takes a journey into Michelle’s foremost years of her childhood in the Chicago’s South Side. The South Side is a working-class neighborhood where Michelle found herself. Michelle recounts her childhood memories in a practical, simplistic tone though sometimes, in an exaggerated manner like this sentence: “South Side,” Michelle writes, “was as big as heaven. And heaven, as I envisioned it, had to be a place full of jazz,” she writes jokingly.
In this same section, the reader will be walked through Michelle’s own journey in education. Michelle, it turns out, adores learning. She loved school so dearly. “To me,” Michelle says, “there was magic in learning.” She particularly loved arts and humanities i.e writing classes and the likes. She hated precalculus but what choice did Michelle have? The girl from South Side also does not shy away from sharing her own parents’ humble lives, or their nothingness to put it bluntly. She talks passionately of her mother who had to change the dream of teaching to be a secretary and her dad’s dashed college dream after failing to raise the tuition fees and instead decided to join the Army.
All these facts played a role in Michelle’s future decisions. She did not want her kids to give up because of lack of a role model just like her dad. “He’ d had no one in his family to talk him into returning to school,” Michelle writes about her dad’s college dropout experience, “no model of what that sort of life looked like.” She recounts quite emotionally, her dad’s medical condition: Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that was taking her dad slowly but surely and he could not bring it up because he does not want Michelle or Craig, Michelle’s elder brother to know.
She then recounts her own mum’s economical manners. She mentions that her mum would rather do her nails or dye her hair herself. That while in the elementary school, her mum would hand- sew her own clothes to cut cost. She talks of her mum not ever buying a new clothe unless Michelle’s dad buys her clothing for as her a birthday present. Michelle opens up on things that most women would keep quiet about; when she reaches the teenage age, Michelle one day announces her period in front of her parents. Thankfully, they were receptive. Then she meets her first kiss, a teenage boy in the South Side’s neighborhood. She recounts: “when a boy on a JV team smiles at me as he left the court one evening, I smiled right back. I felt like my future was just beginning to arrive,” Michelle writes. What a powerful love tale! This reminds every teenager of their first kiss and the tsunami that preceded or escorted it.
After high school, Michelle goes to evaluate some elite schools in the east, one of them, Princeton. She meets a college counselor whom she says belittled her own academic capacity to study at Princeton. “I am not sure,” says the counselor to Michelle, “ that you are a Princeton material.” that perfunctory remarks do not discourage the ambitious Michelle from chasing her own dreams. She pushes on and later joins Princeton for her first degree, doing sociology, a course she gave her best. Her Princeton experience was kind of nostalgic: the realities of race in America’s Ivy Leagues were ripe. The University was white-dominated. Then her roommate, Cathy who had to leave the place following her mum’s advice. But despite all these, Michelle enjoyed the intellectual feel of Princeton. That to her was the deal.
Michelle graduated from Princeton joins another big name for law studies, Harvard then she moves to the corporate world at the magical age of 25, working at one of the top-notch legal firms in Chicago, Sidley & Austin. This is where everything happens. At her 44th floor, she meets a smart and curious young student who is now studying at Harvard Law, the school she left just a few months back. She hires him and their hearts fall. This is Barack Hussein Obama. “My Husband,” as she says several times in the book.
In the second section, Becoming us, the reader expects to hear more of course about Michelle-Barack love. “Barack intrigued me,” she reveals, “he was not like anyone I’d dated before, mainly because he seemed so secure.” She confirmed. So women like confident, secure guys? Okay. Point taken. DID YOU KNOW BARACK OBAMA SMOKE? Michelle says the man does. Barack had two habits when he met Michelle; smoking (not so bad) and books. According to his sweetheart, Barack spends most of his money on books. Where do you spend your money on?
Michelle did not like Barack’s smoking habit. He would continue with the habit until years later when they were in the White House. So if you think Barack would be the guy to give you a lecture on the disadvantage of smoking in relations to lung cancer, think again. But Michelle learns one valuable thing while with this smoker; reading. Without which, perhaps I will not be reviewing this text. Readers are writers!
The Obamas love going on a movie date in a cool city theatre. Michelle writes about a day when they both go to see Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” during their high moments in chemistry. Michelle reveals that she hates doing as a lawyer and would then change gears. “Career change” to a more fulfilling area; non-profit world working with a rising public enterprise, Public Allies with Barack’s recommendations. That little black man she hires at Sidley & Austin.
Another interesting point, to me that is, she writes about, is Barack’s own struggle with writing when he was working on the Dreams from my Father. She recounts an awkward story about the fine the couple had to pay when they slept on the publication deal; a hefty $40,000. Barack would then leave for an Island in Indonesia to finish the thing. Then Michelle again misses the man, feeling alone while her husband goes on a honeymoon with the book. This is relieving to all writers because sometimes we think we struggle because we lack resources but writing apparently, is demanding regardless of one’s status. Thank you, Michelle.
The greatest revelation in the book perhaps is Michelle’s use of the IVF to produce her down-to-earth and confident looking girls: Malia and Sasha. After so many years avoiding a child, now Michelle could not get pregnant. When she does, she miscarriages. Few women talk about miscarriage or the use of IVF but millions of women use it or do actually miscarriage but they are too afraid, too uncomfortable talking about it. Michelle breaks it openly. In this section, the reader will also be walked through Barack’s own towering rise to politics, from the Senate halls to the highest echelon of power, the President of the United States of America.
Although Michelle discusses her disregard for politics several times in the book, she is nonetheless, very proud of her husband’s undying commitment to serve and his ambition for change. She talks about the campaign, the media fabrications on her and quite passionately, their own “we-don’t-care-what-they-think” philosophy. She calls it “when they go low, we go high” which is another way to say that no one should be dragged down by another’s own insecurities.
Then there is a line which made me cry, like literally. While introducing the campaign stuff in the book, Michelle leaves the reader with less hope and more pessimism about Barack’s chances to make it as the First Black President of the free world. On the elections day, she locks herself up in her room as the results are being announced, but then this happens: “ it was exactly ten o’clock,” she writes, “ when the networks began to flash pictures of my husband, declaring that BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA would become the 44th President of the United States of America.”
In the last section, Becoming more, Michelle takes you through their life at one of the most guarded places on earth: the White House. The reader will know about the Secret Service, the breadth of the building so many people admire, but more so, the Obamas’ own struggle for freedom, yes, freedom. The little girls do not go to the toilet or date without a secret service. Just imagine that for a minute. Then she recounts her own role as the First Black, First African American, First Lady of the Free World and with a job that has no description. She tells you how she plays around with it and gives it a description by turning the White House lawn into a garden; to achieve two things. 1. She wants to fight one of America’s growing problems in recent memories; obesity on a practical ground by planting trees good for nutrition. 2. She wants to have space with the kids.
Michelle does not only love kids, but she also adores them. At the occasion, she will have kids come to the White House and have fun, especially in the garden. The kids will ask curiously: “where is the President and how comes he is not helping?”Then she talks about Trump whom she disregards quite well. She describes Trump as a “bully” and a “misogynist.” she says these words in reference to Trump’s blatant disregard for women. “Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. It is the ugliest kind of power.”
Finally, Michelle clears the air, she says she is not going to run for the presidency. She says she hates politics. She always hates it and the ten years in politics through Barack has not changed that, perhaps, we can say, it has only leveraged it.
Should you buy the book? My answer is, stop reading this now, get up and see your nearest bookstore, or go to Amazon or request a pdf copy from here. Read it, all of it. But hey, take note while you do so because it could change your life.
“Education had been the primary instrument of change in my own life, my lever upward in the world.” – Michelle Obama (Becoming, 2018)