The memoir of a First Lady is not usually something I would run to the bookshop for, but in the case of Michelle Obama, I was intrigued. I wanted to know if she really is as kind, warm, intelligent, accomplished, empathic and eloquent as she has come across since the day she set her foot in the White House. And, if this book is to be believed, she is! A feel good book written with warmth, humour and self-deprecation.
Michelle Obama is no typical First Lady. From growing up in one of Chicago’s tougher neighbourhoods to becoming the first ever black presidential wife to the first ever black president. A graduate of two Ivy league universities, a successful corporate lawyer and later public service employee, Michelle Obama’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary. A happy, stable childhood in a tight-knit family and an impressive intellect gave Michelle Obama the confidence to break through several glass ceilings.
Grace was a word that kept popping into my mind while reading this book. Grace in the way the Obamas took to the overwhelming experience of becoming the presidential couple and how they carried themselves while there, in how Michelle Obama used her position as a First Lady (beyond redecorating the White House) without falling into the trap that Hilary Clinton did while First Lady, in how they dealt with the transfer of power to Trump who’d relentlessly spread fake news about Obama’s birth place. It wasn’t always easy, though, and Michelle Obama is candid about her frustrations, doubts and regrets along the way.
There’s a wonderful moment in Becoming where, on the night of Trump’s inauguration, Michelle Obama, home alone in her new house, savours her new-found freedom by going into the kitchen to make a cheese toast. The relief is tangible as is the nostalgia, and the enormity of what she has experienced starts to sink in.
I then carried my plate outside to the backyard. I didn’t have to tell anyone I was going. I just went. I was in bare feet, wearing a pair of shorts. The chill of the winter had finally lifted. […] A dog started barking somewhere in the distance, and my own paused to listen, seeming momentarily confused. It occurred to me that it was a jarring sound for them, given that we didn’t have neighbors, let alone neighbor dogs, at the White House.
Even the invariably formal Queen Elizabeth seems to have melted around the Obamas. I’ve always admired this lady, and no less so after having read this book. Just as the ex-first couple themselves, it radiates hope, optimism and a faith in tolerance and decency. Exactly what we need these days.
Becoming by Michelle Obama is published by Viking, 421 pages.