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Book Review: Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Becoming is, of course, the memoir written by Michelle Obama, published in late 2018. For those of us living in a hole in the ground, Michelle Obama is the most recent former First Lady of the United States, wife of Barak Obama, our recent former President. The pair were, also quite obviously, the first black POTUS and FLOTUS in the history of our fine country.

Mrs. Obama’s memoir is part coming-of-age story, part history lesson. We hear about her close-knit family upbringing on Chicago’s South Side and the touchstone it provides her, a virtual talisman she carries within her and to which she returns consistently throughout her journey. We hear about her first meeting with Barak Obama, a skinny law student with a funny name, who comes to her high-powered Chicago law firm as an intern under her direction. We hear, also, how her personal process unfolds as she considers the “check boxes” of success- Ivy League education, partner-track job at a high-paying law firm- while slowly allowing herself to recognize she has her own ideas about what success might mean, leading her to a life of service and personal meaning.

Family is at the heart of this story, making it relatable to every reader. So are the value of getting a good education and the responsibility of considering where one fits within a larger context, both while remaining true to one’s most closely-held values. It would be easy to detail examples of how these principles play out in Mrs. Obama’s story, but I’ll resist that urge and instead suggest you read the book for yourself for full effect.

The history-lesson part of this book is unique, and completely fascinating. Because Mrs. Obama’s time in the White House concluded so recently, most readers will be familiar with the historical events she details. She invites us intimately into her experience: What was it like to wait out election results in 2008? What was it like to learn from inside the White House that Osama Bin Laden had been successfully targeted by US Navy Seals? How did Queen Elizabeth of England really respond when Mrs. Obama broke protocol and – OMG!- hugged her to conclude a state meeting? She juggles dignity, the well-being of her daughters, and love of country so skillfully as First Lady. Backward, and in high heels.

Laced throughout the memoir, Mrs. Obama gently describes what it feels like to be black in America. She does so in a way heartfelt, and without self-pity. Her dignity is astonishing. Her gentleness teaches what a hammer-blow cannot- we are all of us worthwhile.

In the audio book, we have the pleasure of hearing Mrs. Obama tell us her own story. It is she who performs the reading. This is an extra added bonus- any time an author reads his or her own story for us, we are spared the often well-intentioned but nonsensical stresses or inflections a professional reader often applies when asked to “read with expression” by a well-meaning director. This reader knows what she means and expresses it with clarity. Also, Mrs. Obama’s voice is lovely to hear.

At its heart, this is a human story about one woman’s extraordinary journey. I found it a treasure to be let inside Mrs. Obama’s experience. Thank you, Mrs. Obama.

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