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February Book of the Month: Becoming

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BecomingBecoming
By Michelle Obama
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

Even if you don’t remember the fist-bump, begin with the beginning of Becoming and you will hear the vivid voice of a first-class storyteller with a full tale to tell. She is not just the former First Lady here but a narrator with a fascinating perspective of time and place. Michelle LaVaughn Obama describes growing up in a loving family in the South Side of Chicago, with her own evolution from a feisty little girl always ready for the next challenge, to Princeton and then to Harvard Law School, and — skipping ahead, as we already know — eventually to the White House, with her own initiatives and advocacy as First Lady over the two terms of the Obama administration. The Preface is an exceptional essay in itself, with an articulate grace and the kind of direct honesty that every good story needs, and history demands:

…until recently, I was the First Lady of the United States of America—a job that’s not officially a job, but that nonetheless has given me a platform like nothing I could have imagined. It challenged me and humbled me, lifted me up and shrank me down, sometimes all at once. I’m just beginning to process what took place these last years — from the moment in 2006 when my husband first started talking about running for president to the cold morning this winter when I climbed into a limo with Melania Trump, accompanying her to her husband’s inauguration. It’s been quite a ride…

It’s an intriguing story, starting with Becoming Me (the other sections are Becoming Us, and Becoming More) — a personal recounting of growing up in a largely African-American community, beginning to understand her own close family dynamics and community, and seeing how the history of deep discrimination had thwarted dreams and desires in her family and across the South Side. The story she weaves is anything but didactic, but a clear tracing of the cumulative impact of discrimination, such as how one grandfather’s dreams to be an electrician and to get a good union job were blocked, and others in her family circle limited to work in which there was no way to rise and push ahead.

Of course, before the White House lawn becomes a model garden, there are miles to go — piano recitals, marriage and children, campaigns, and many high-level professional positions. Ultimately, Becoming is a narrative of one woman’s intelligence, frustrations, humor, style, and perspicacity, with an inborn jolt of courage and personal daring, across history and her own personal way. Not the least, it also offers a fresh reminder of eight years of a White House not that long ago—and an altogether fascinating read. As Mrs. Obama says: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

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