Becoming Michelle Obama (2018)
Michelle Obama’s memoir was the bestselling book of 2018, even though it wasn’t published until November of that year. Many of the surprises of the book have been widely discussed in news articles—for instance, that Michelle had a miscarriage before her older daughter, Malia, was born and that she and Barack used IVF to conceive both Malia and their second daughter, Sasha.
Becoming is as engaging as a page-turner novel; I read it cover-to- cover in one day. Instead of rehearsing the biographical details of the book, which you can find in reviews all over the place, I’ll tell you what aspects struck me most:
The authentic voice of Michelle Obama.
The Michelle in this memoir is the same Michelle that you know from talk shows and interviews and that slam-dunk speech that she gave at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The cadence of the phrases is the same, the warmth is the same, the frankness is the same.
The story of the evening that Barack proposed marriage.
Readers are aware, of course, that Michelle and Barack did get married, but the suspense in this scene is delightful.
The insights into ordinary middle-class African American family life.
Yes, Michelle grew up on Chicago’s tough South Side, but she doesn’t whine about what she lacked. She describes gatherings of her large extended family with obvious affection. She praises her parents for the sacrifices they made so that she and her older brother could have good educations.
The insights into life in the White House.
It’s luxurious, but the necessary security measures make it a virtual prison for the First Family. Michelle was determined that her young daughters have some semblance of a normal childhood, and this was a tall order for the eight years of Barack’s presidency.
The sad truth of how hurtful right-wing media attacks are.
Over and over, Michelle describes how devastated she was when her patriotism was questioned about quotes taken out of context or when she was viciously attacked for wearing a particular piece of clothing.
The revelation of Michelle’s sense of insecurity.
The seemingly indomitable former First Lady recounts, repeatedly, when she felt inadequate, when she feared that she was not good enough. Her 2016 appearance on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” seemed effortless and relaxed, but she tells us that it was “a little terrifying” (402) and that she practiced for weeks. She agreed to appear only to promote a song that would raise money for a global project for the education of girls.
You’ll notice that I refer to the author here as “Michelle,” and I mean no disrespect in using her given name. Don’t most Americans feel as if they know her personally? Didn’t she connect with the citizenry in a way that other First Ladies simply haven’t? Becoming cements that connection.
Postscript: Thanks to Dorothy Needham Moreno for lending me her copy of Becoming so that I didn’t have to sit for a year on the library’s wait list!