REVIEW: Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ humanizes nation’s charming First Lady

Promotional artwork for Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ courtesy of Random House

In 2018, Michelle Obama released her memoir — Becoming — which quickly became the second best selling debut in 2018, earned the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Autobiographies in 2019, and won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album earlier this year.

Each of these awards are well-deserved. The book feels like exhaling after years of holding your breath. Obama discusses openly and willingly the details of her life and despite her prominence, she still connects to the average person with ease. 

In her autobiography she discusses the loss of friends and family and how her life had been affected, how lost she had felt after realizing that she didn’t want to be a lawyer, and how she struggled to balance her own ambitions with her family life. Obama writes about how she had always worked hard. Always been the type of person who had planned everything out and everything she did was just another task on a to-do list, and how being a lawyer was nothing different. However as her life changed she realized how that life wasn’t something that she really wanted, but there was still a level of guilt because being a lawyer was stable, it was safe.

There is something raw about Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She is incredibly open about everything that has happened in her life. She talks about  loss, love, and ambition with bravery that is astonishing. 

This book is a book to bring people back from the edge. Not because of a sense of guilt that things could be worse but because of the ever-present filigree of hope that is threaded throughout the book. No matter what she writes about, no matter what struggles, what challenges Obama discusses in her book, she remains optimistic. The turmoil is genuine and the emotion seems to bleed off the page, but no matter what, she seems to land on her feet. Obstacles, while frustrating, weren’t deterrents. 

The writing in and of itself can come off as a bit indulgent. Granted because it is an autobiography, it is to be expected. It seems impossible for someone to write about themselves without a little bit of self importance seeping through. However the writing is honest. It feels conversational and open, even as Obama shares some of the more emotionally taxing parts of her life. Her feelings seem to come alive on the page and the vividness with which she describes her memories feels like watching them unfold right before your eyes. While the autobiography does detail much of her relationship with Barack Obama and being the first lady, her story is centered around her family and her journey to finding her passion and the intermingling of the two. 

Becoming is a book to bring people back from the edge. Not because of a sense of guilt that things could be worse but because of the ever-present filigree of hope that is threaded throughout the book.

It isn’t the story of Barack Obama’s wife. It isn’t the story of a former First Lady. It is simply the story of her life. 

It’s easy to look at the world around us and see the imperfections, see the seams that are splitting apart. And sometimes that’s all people can see. 

Others choose the opposite end of the spectrum and they forget that just because things are better than they were “before”, doesn’t mean that they are good enough, and they forget that to this day people are still fighting to be treated humanely, in this country. 

There needs to be a middle ground. 

Where we aren’t settling for a world that is good enough, but at the same time looking at the world and being able to appreciate how far we have come already. 

Mythreyi Namuduri is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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