For all its concern with optics, politics has never been good at showing us its participants as relatable human beings. A curious alchemy transforms political figures into avatars of ideology and values, rather than people. Unsurprisingly, then, most political memoirs are unrevealing. Even at their best they shy away from meaningful introspection. With a few moving deviations, Michelle Obama’s Becoming is, disappointingly, no exception. Her book is a lost opportunity to announce herself as someone whom we hadn’t already stitched together ourselves.
She begins with a preface that makes a case against personal stagnation: Why do we ask only children what they want to be when they grow up, “as if growing up is finite”? It is a wonderful question, and for a person of her prominence—still fresh, or freshly liberated, from her tenure as the nation’s first black first lady—the precise ways in which she will continue to grow, not to mention her reflection on where she has come from, mark unspeakably rich terrain. It is terrain, however, that Becoming leaves unexplored.
Story Continued Below
The South Side of Chicago is the ubiquitous setting for her childhood, pregnant with odds almost impossible to surmount. Yet her parents, lovingly presented as steely, wise, caring and lenient, urge her to greatness by modeling dedication to hard work and even rescuing her from a teacher who clearly has no business (and no interest) being in a classroom. Also important are the family members (her great-aunt Robbie and her husband Terry live downstairs; her grandfather Southside and her aunt Carolyn and Uncle Steve live just two blocks away) she is lucky enough to have close by. Each of them plays a crucial role in cultivating her vision of what success might eventually look like, whether she is playing competently at a piano recital or requesting to retake a spelling test so that the offending word will no longer evade her. The girl we see is driven almost to a fault, racing successfully through high school with several achievements in tow. She even gets a taste of politics from a friendship with Rev. Jesse Jackson’s daughter, but by the time she is ready to go to Princeton she is sure politics is not for her. Her idea of success requires a trajectory with much less uncertainty.
In college, we see a version of herself we could have transcribed from her childhood: confident, competent and conjoined to key figures who shepherd her growing intellect. This stage of her becoming is merely footnoted, as it were, though it begs for deeper investigation. What was it like to be black at Princeton in the ‘80s? To have a brother who had already made it there? She gives us no real access to these realities. The prose is anxious to move us along to Harvard Law School, the next stop of her meritocratic ascent, one that has been forecasted from the beginning. Her time at Harvard is swiftly successful as well, an eventless preamble to her first corporate job back in Chicago, 47th floor and all.
These moments take up only the first fourth of the book, and they arrive with the neatness of a résumé. There must have once been a less compartmentalized Michelle, one whose growing up was neither finite nor hurried. But we do not get to see her. Barack Obama enters the narrative and his presence consumes her focus thereafter. Writing about Michelle Obama means, at some point, writing about Barack. But in chronicling her life, it is unfortunate that for the rest of Becoming, she surrenders her narrative to his. Her interest in her own dynamic story seems to wane. Only rarely does she poke through.
Familiar details of her and Barack’s courtship are retold, precisely as we have heard them or seen them in film. She introduces a recurring theme that he is always late, even when they are married and have children, when being late to dinner or to the daily routines of their family life is no longer acceptable. But she does so by carefully moving past palpable resentment so that her critique of him quickly becomes acceptance. She chides him for lax views on formalizing their relationship in marriage (he never believed much in the institution, and one gets the sense that, because he loved her deeply, he committed to marriage because she required it), but she praises him for coming around eventually. In one of the most moving scenes in the book, she writes about having to take her daughter with her to a job interview, but she does so in the context of showing her future employer what he would have to accept, not, as it turns out, as a way to highlight the immense sacrifices she was always making so that Barack could pursue his interests. In her cataloging of such sacrifices (sometimes apparent only because the reader infers what she will not say), she moves away from herself, only half using an opportunity to boldface the point that even Michelle Obama—intelligent, talented, accomplished—gave up things for her man.
Becoming the first lady of the United States isn’t exactly a payoff for those sacrifices, though she’s grateful to have a staff to shoulder responsibilities she formerly bore alone. But aside from the tender concern she describes for the welfare of her children, newly catapulted onto the international stage, even in her writing about life in Washington we lack access to a truly unguarded Michelle. Rather, she writes passionately about President Obama’s agenda and her own initiatives, with moments of light attention to the minutiae of living in the White House as well as brief pauses to settle old scores (her indictments of cruelty to her by Christopher Hitchens and Maureen Dowd crackle with interest, as well as her repeated disdain for Donald Trump).
What she presents, then, is not a journey of her yet-unfinished becoming; it is a thin portrait of who she was and a defense of who she remains. What lies uncharted is the immense weight of what it was really like to be her: A woman who sparkled all her life, ascending to registers of success she anticipated in middle school, only to sideline her ambitions for her husband’s. We never learn: What does Michelle Obama want to be when she grows up?
- Michelle Obama says she is frustrated with the lack of change since Me Too
- Michelle Obama leads birthday wishes for her Barack as he turns 57
- Michelle Obama hugs a crying Kanye West in Childish Gambino's new animated music video
- 'The Obamas should not be criticised for making money. They're former politicians, not saints'
- Do we have Obama and Blair to thank for Trump and Brexit?
- Not All Democrats Welcome 'Surrogate' Obama to Push Midterm Campaign
- 19 best food and drink advent calendars for Christmas 2018
- Duterte Sorry for Calling Obama 'Son of a Wh*re,' Calls Trump 'Good Friend'
- These are the top 10 MUST-HAVE toys this Christmas
- 26 European Christmas markets you can fly to from Devon or Cornwall
- Michelle Keegan’s £45 sell-out denim bodycon dress is back in stock… and now in black
- The 12 weeks of Christmas: How to make this your most stress-free festive season yet
- Is it too early to begin Christmas preparations?
- Aldi selling foot-long pigs in blankets just in time for Christmas
- Fired-up Obama attacks Trump and Republicans
- 9 of the best real Christmas trees and where to buy them
- Obama blasts Trump over his divisive policies, calls him a 'symptom'
- Obama issues scathing critique of Trump
- Obama addresses business leaders in Helsinki on climate, technology
- You need to start prepping for Christmas in August to save yourself from debt
There’s Still Time to Buy Something Besides Michelle Obama’s Memoir for Christmas have 1274 words, post on www.politico.com at December 17, 2018. This is cached page on Business News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.