Becoming

– Michelle Obama

This book was all the rage last year with book tours and promotional events resembling music concerts. Very intimate details about her life and book excepts were everywhere all the talk show hosts could not stop gushing about her even inviting her for multiple interviews. Being a big fan of Obama(s) – although I admit I knew less about the workings of a Presidency then as I do now (thanks to the current political reality show and climate), I was naturally drawn to the book. She had always looked perfect and resplendent in every official picture from their term. My respect for both of them quadrupled, hell – exponentially jumped when I saw how far the values embodied by a POTUS have fallen since. Given all this hype and curiosity about the Obamas, I signed up (no.693 on the waiting list) for this book from my local library.

The book arrived faster than I expected (a mere 2 month wait) and boy was it riveting! She has beautifully divided the book into three sections – Becoming me, Becoming us and Becoming more. I was sucked in right from the preface. The book is as frank and open as it can be and so very well written. It is intimate as it is generic painting a vivid picture of growing up in South Side, Chicago. One of her first lines are long the lines of “the background music of my life was about striving” – I think this is such a beautiful line and put words to the feeling I carried through my childhood and still carry with me today. Her dedication to being an A student throughout, trying to be her best in everything she did and her tight, loving upbringing hits so close to home. In fact many times in the book I paused to think about my imaginary memoir, and to lament the loss of sentences I was supposed to write in mine! The first third of the book is my absolute favorite and I connect the most with it.

Becoming Us reads like a lovely rom-com at times. Given that I’m a big fan of Barack Obama – a nerdy, cool dude with the right swagger and perfect words, it was a bit intoxicating to read details about their early courtship and eventual wedding. He is portrayed as very cerebral, with a brain that wanders in different planes at night trying to solve the world’s problems and is extremely ambitious. Her description of his “hole” – the room where he strews papers and books, sparsely furnished with a table and chair and where he reads and reads and often writes is very funny and charismatic. I’ve watched my room convert into these “holes” when faced with a tough academic challenge and I felt a secret sense of pride that there was at least one common trait I shared with this great man. She openly talks about the challenges of living with an individual with a brilliant mind and the lack of support she faced trying to support her career, his career and two young children.

One of the most important lessons about trying to be the best at whatever you do and opportunities will open, was reinforced. Of course there is an element of luck (with Barack’s election to US Senate) and plenty of hard work (120 hour weeks were so common), but the idea that doing your job well opens new doors is a recurring theme. It is a wonderful transition – reading about a regular, academically oriented couple moving into the hottest seat of power and politics. Her decisions to move to part-time jobs, asking for more pay despite the type and funding of the organization, the desire to do meaningful work and not just earn pots of money – all of this is a part of every career-oriented person’s dilemma and she reveals everything bringing a sense of normalcy and pride into wanting and dreaming big.

The third and last part about the book is about their presidency and she keeps it brief, only describing the parts that were very important to her (her vegetable garden) or the unseen challenges (the sudden pressure on appearances) she faced. Her worry about her children – and whether they will become too spoilt or grow up friendless strikes you for the first time as very real. The fact being that the club of ex-presidents is very small and raising children in the White House amid so much publicity and the omnipresent social media is a first in many ways with no experience to borrow from. It is only the support of her mother, Barack and her faith in her values that helps them through. Right from learning driving at 16 to attending prom, or participating in swim meets and eating impromptu ice cream – everything kid-related becomes a massive logistical task. It was interesting to read about the more “normal” side of the white house – their residence quarters, the Truman balcony, the rose garden, the commissioned china. It was interesting to note how the family copes with the Presidency (the stress and responsibility) and all the restrictions that come with it
(the giant motorcade, the permissions and planning, the scrutiny and security threats) .

I tore through the book because it was such an amazing, interesting and engrossing read spending many nights reading, way past my bedtime. At the end of the book, I glanced up at the current news of the day and the sadness that she and her husband were no longer the First Couple hit even harder. She is truly an inspiration, the backbone in keeping their family sane and healthy, an extremely smart and intelligent woman with an amazing career. She confronts the burden of having the “wrong” skin-color by excelling at everything she sets her mind to, leaving no doubts or questions in her wake.

A must read even if you have no interest in the politics of any country. Very highly recommend.

PS: For someone who never took a liking to memoirs, I realize I’ve read two in 2018/2019 (so far) – Small Fry and Becoming and both were un-put-down-able. I will keep my eyes peeled for more memoirs this year!

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