“I had nothing, and I had everything. It depends how you tell it” – Michelle Obama
When I was asked to write a book review, little did I think that my first choice would be the autobiography of the former First Lady of the United States. The autobiography section is probably one of the least visited areas in a bookshop, reserved for intellectuals and students of history. Why would anyone read a book about someone else’s life, when there are so many exciting bestsellers to choose from?
Head to the bestseller section though, and smack in the middle, prominently displayed on the top shelf, is Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, which has dominated the bestsellers list since November 2018. If you’re wondering what is special about this autobiography or why I read it…
Perhaps it is because it is always nice to read of a fairytale come true, a real-life success story. The story of the young black girl from the south side of Chicago, who grew up in “ in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighbourhood…” who has gone on to become one of the most influential First Ladies in the United States.
Perhaps it is because how she tells her own story, the personal journey of Michelle Robinson, a girl who just “wanted a dog… and a house that had stairs in it”. We are touched by the heartwarming rendition of her early years with her parents, and the guidance they gave her, the bedrock that took her from Princeton to Harvard, and then the offices of Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin.
Perhaps it is nice to read about how she gradually falls for her summer associate mentee, “There was no arguing with the fact that even with his challenged sense of style, Barack was a catch”. Told sometimes tongue in cheek and at others with whimsical nostalgia, it is a chance to see the layers pulled back, on her courtship and her subsequent marriage. “I understand now that a marriage can be vexation, that it’s a contract best renewed and renewed again…”
Perhaps also because it’s about a woman, a black woman, who (at the risk of sounding cliched) defied all odds to become one of the most groundbreaking women of this generation. Who has been pronounced as the one who can beat Donald Trump in 2020 – if only she were to run. Her anecdotes will resonate with the women of today, who often struggle to balance career with family, “… a part time job, especially when it is meant to be a scaled down version of your previously full-time job, can be something of a trap”.
Perhaps it is because the story is told in a frank and disarming manner, the personal toll of campaigning laid bare. We are brought behind the scenes to witness the private debate on whether her husband should run for political office. And hear her candour, her “flicker of resentment” for having to undergo fertility treatment on her own.
Perhaps it is nice just to finally read an autobiography that touches your heart, the heartwarming tale told by a wife and mother, who just also happened to be married to the former President of the United States of America. Forget looking for an expose on the political machinations of the Obama administration, or the inside on scandals that might or might not have taken place. You will not find it here. This, from beginning to end, is her story, the story of “an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey”.
And finally, just because this book is so immensely readable. A book that is best with a cup of tea, whilst tucked under a warm blanket. There a tingle of anticipation when you pick it up, absolute pleasure to flick through the pages, and a smile on your face when you finally turn off the light.
Picture by Sharan Gill