Becoming, by Michelle Obama

2018 has truly been the year of memoirs for me. I don’t think I’d ever read so many of them in a year before. And what better memoir to end the year on than Becoming by the 44th First Lady of the United States, Michelle Robinson Obama. I’ve been waiting for this book for many months, since March 2018 to be exact. Of course, I pre-ordered it when it was announced and, even if a post strike kept us apart for longer than we should have, we were finally reunited. The end of term and exams have forced me to put it down more often than I wanted to, but I’ve finished it in a week and can’t stop thinking about it since.

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I have to say I’ve always admired how genuine and real Michelle Obama seems to be. And this book has shown me that she doesn’t just appears to be genuine, she is. In her memoir, she starts by exposing her life, from her childhood up until today. What this summary of her life confirms is that she hasn’t changed through the years; she has evolved. What I mean by that is that she didn’t let politics or public pressure take the best out of her. Instead, she let herself be inspired and challenged by them. What I admire the most about her writing is that this realization I had is clearly orchestrated. This memoir wasn’t written just for the sake of it, she obviously wanted to share her story to show people how to make the most of what life throws their way. It’s obvious that she didn’t have the easiest life, but when you look back on it, you realize that she didn’t let these obstacles crush her. She found a way to make it work.

Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

She never depicts herself as a victim even if some of the events she went through are incredibly sad or troubling. I particularly admire how she spoke of miscarriage and IVF. For so many women, those are pretty touchy subjects and, while I assume that it’s easier to speak about them this way with some distance, I loved how she brought some lightness to the subject. I think this chapter can help women who are going through it or who have experienced it. Her reassuring and comforting presence is so strong in these passages that you can feel her tell you her story, as if she was in the room with you. Her voice is so powerful that I could almost hear her talk to me when I was reading her words. The ability to inject personality and truth to your writing is a talent I admire.

But listening to Barack, I began to understand that his version of hope reached far beyond mine: It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.”

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This book’s greatest attribute is its realness. I can’t say how happy I was when I realized that she was giving me everything I’d ever wanted to know. Sometimes, memoirs can serve a purpose that overshadows some events because they only exist to promote or push an agenda. In Becoming, Michelle Obama isn’t selling herself. She is clear about that. She doesn’t want to become President, like, ever. She doesn’t want to stay “famous”. What she wants is to continue to inspire people and to use her platform to help the youth. Which is probably why she included moments in the book that maybe don’t always put her or her husband in the best light, but that satisfied the reader’s curiosity. I loved reading how she and President Barack Obama met or how she said yes to him running for the presidency (turns out she only said “yes” ’cause she thought he’d never win… Oops!). But, above all, I wanted to know how she felt about the current president. I know it may be weird, but I couldn’t accept the images we saw of her and President Obama welcoming him at the White House all smiles and cheerful. I felt so relieved when I read her true reaction to his words and claims. Her anger and intolerance to his offensive remarks validated my feelings and I am so grateful that she chose to include these passages in her book.

[…] a tape would surface of Donald Trump in an unguarded moment, bragging to a TV host in 2005 about sexually assaulting women, using language so lewd and vulgar that it put media outlets in a quandary about how to quote it without violating the established standards of decency. In the end, the standards of decency were simply lowered in order to make room for the candidate’s voice.”

This memoir also gives great insight into life in the White House. I was amazed to learn that they had to pay for the food they ate in the White House. I mean, it makes sense that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for it, but I guess I’d never thought about it. Even crazier, the car in which the President travels always contains a certain quantity of compatible blood in case he needs a transfusion. I was also shocked to learn that everywhere the President goes there is a person carrying a suitcase, called the “football”, which contains the nuclear codes and directives. Always be prepared, right? Anyways, these little anecdotes and fun facts bring lightness to her story and captivate us from beginning to end.

I’d been Mrs. Obama for the last twelve years, but it was starting to mean something different. […] I was now Mrs. Obama in a way that could feel diminishing, a missus defined by her mister.”

In all, Becoming is a great tale of determination, kindness and dedication. I recommend it to everyone. It speaks of feminism, womanhood and politics without being didactic or complacent. Michelle Obama doesn’t hesitate to criticize the political system, media outlets, spiteful attitudes and, sometimes, her own actions. This memoir is inspirational and challenging because it makes you think and see your own life in a different light. I didn’t think it was possible for me to love Michelle and Barack Obama more than I already did, but she proved me wrong. Their flaws and origin stories made them even more charming. But be careful, this book definitely reopened the wound and revived the pain I felt when the Obamas left the White House two years ago… It was worth it though!

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