I remember the first time I even remotely let myself believe that Barack and Michelle Obama could take residence in the White House. It was when I saw a photo of them flanked by Malia and Sasha in Ebony magazine. It was a beautiful photo wherein the first family were donning winter coats, their faces lit up with hopeful smiles. Could it happen? Would it happen? Do I dare let myself believe the unthinkable? I recollected being a child and seeing the walls plastered with the presidents of the United States—all white men. Who was this black man who had the audacity to believe he could become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world? Moreover, who was that beautiful black woman standing at his side and how did she get there? I, like many others, had never heard of Barack or Michelle. It seemed like a dream, like they had appeared out of nowhere. Who are these people?
Well, it’s been a decade since I came across that photo in Ebony Magazine and that unfamiliar family as we all know became the first black First Family. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about these people, but it wasn’t until I read Michelle’s memoir BECOMING that I came to truly appreciate this family and all they’ve sacrificed to reach the heights that they have. Michelle, starting with the preface, pulled me right in, capturing my imagination with her eloquent narrative. When I came to the paragraph in the preface where she said she had heard about the swampy parts of the internet that questioned everything about her, right down to whether she’s a woman or a man, I knew this memoir was going to not just be a read, but an experience. I knew in that moment that Michelle had poured her heart and soul into this book and after reading all 429 pages I was right.
BECOMING is a breathtaking, world wind, masterpiece. Michelle takes us back to the South Side of Chicago where she was raised by her devoted parents and protected by her older brother Craig. Michelle wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she was surrounded with immediate and extended family who loved and nurtured her and who stressed the importance of getting an education and who exposed Michelle to arts and culture.
Michelle’s writing is so descriptive and intimate that you feel like you’re sitting across from her while she flawlessly reveals her life story. I laughed out loud and sobbed throughout the book. There are so many poignant and heartfelt moments. When Michelle described Craig’s teenage preventive phase which included him having their father lay on the floor so that he could practice hauling him out of the house in case there was a fire, I couldn’t help but laugh. No, if a fire were to have broken out, it wouldn’t have been a funny matter, but the way Michelle described the incredulous look on their father’s face, it evoked laughter. Michelle’s father suffered with multiple sclerosis and it grew worst over time. She made me cry at her first recital when she became paralyzed at the sight of the perfect grand piano in front of her. She was used to playing on her Aunt Robbie’s upright with the broken keys. Aunt Robbie came to the rescue and placed Michelle’s finger on the middle C so that she could play.
Michelle keeps you turning the pages as she takes us from her early years into her high school years and on to college, a journey that was fraught with challenges and insecurities. “Am I good enough?” Yes, that was a constant refrain. Like many of us, Michelle had doubts, but she kept forging ahead, even when the counselor at Princeton told her that she didn’t think Michelle was Princeton material. Michelle proved that counselor wrong when she graduated from Princeton and joined a top Chicago law firm where she became Barack’s mentor.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about their first encounter and subsequent courtship. It was comforting to read that Barack and Michelle weren’t the perfect couple I fantasized they were. And I applauded Michelle for revealing that they had gone to marital counseling where Michelle and Barack came to realize that it was not either of their responsibility to make the other person happy. I was also surprised to learn of their fertility challenges. The more I read, the more I realized that Michelle is so like many of us, with flaws, dreams, struggles and a whole lot of determination. I got so swept up in reading BECOMING I would read until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, it’s that good.
She gives a bird’s-eye view of life in the White House and what a view it is. Being waited on hand and foot, living in opulence. But she also writes about the downsides—living in a bubble, restricted movement, guarded, the dark side of politics and meanspirited politicians, trying to raise and protect her children. Whew! You have to have the nerves of steel to be a first lady and Michelle did it with grace and style. I also loved how she outlined all of Barack and her accomplishments during their time in the White House. I knew the obvious, like The Affordable Care Act and Michelle’s fight against childhood obesity, but they did so much more.
I can go on and on. So many memories and stories, woven together so well that it will inspire you to want to do more, to look outside of yourself, to want to make a difference, to want to make an impact on the world in a positive and tangible way. BECOMING should be required national reading.
Thank you, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama for being enough. For BECOMING!