A few months ago a friend and I were deciding on what movie to see. I was interested in a film with some historical relevance and she dismissed it coldly saying “I already know it ends.” Why should that make the journey any less interesting? I suppose we all know how this story ends: Michelle Obama became the First Lady of the United States, and then she wasn’t anymore. We all know many parts of the story as well–it’s a very public life, belonging to the people in a unique way–we watched it happen on TV and in newspapers. She was our First Lady and we knew what she was up to, and I think a lot of us felt we had the right to know what she was up to. But there were so many pieces of the journey we couldn’t have known about and the journey is what makes the story worth telling. At times lyrical and at others straight-forward, Becoming is a wonderful memoir covering the real highs and lows of a full life lived. The slow transition from a private citizen to a public figure while doing her best to have it all; not in the cynical way we talk about having it all, but in a real, meaningful way where Michelle was able to define the all she wanted and then work to achieve it.
Michelle Obama’s memoir is broken up into three larger parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. By the end, the theme has emerged, and is plainly stated–we are all continually becoming who we are. The three parts separate her life into digestible pieces for the reader, but clearly they feed into each other. They overlap in interesting and sometimes surprising ways. A fun story of 7-year-old Michelle comes back to remind us how lessons we learn in second grade can stay with us, and how they can also reveal new meaning when we revisit them as adults.
I adored the stories of her childhood, told with care and grace and an obvious affection for the structure that guided her through her whole life. She tells her life with a sense of aww shucks that makes us truly wonder what will happen next and truly believe she is just any person who has worked hard. Every once in a while I would take a step back from the book and say “oh, but it’s Michelle Obama. So there’s still something special about this person.” Her version, however, really makes the reader feel that she wasn’t special because she was unique. She was just special because she was loved and supported and didn’t give up. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how not once was there a moment where another person stepped in her convince her to let go of her structure that guided her so well. I don’t doubt this happened, but the absence of this force is refreshing to a structure-loving goal-oriented person such as myself. She knew who she was, how she got that way, and she used every ounce of herself to continue to better herself and her family.
The book is written with elegance and a slight sense of urgency. Enough so that even though, yes, I know how it ends, I could forget that while reading it. It was exciting to read; it was exciting to read about high-school and bus rides. It was exciting to read about Princeton, trips to New York, and Harvard Law. It was exciting to read about her and Barack Obama’s romance. And it was exciting to read about the campaign, with all of its ups and downs, the grueling schedules, and life under a microscope. There are also many heart-breaking moments delivered with care and a seriousness that remind us we’re all human, we all experience pain. And then again, we all experience joy. And we all balance every aspect of life, each in our own way. She experienced them before she was First Lady, and she continued to experience the entire range of humanity during her time as First Lady and will continue to do so well after. Telling her story, she seems to tell us that she honors and respects how we are becoming ourselves as well.
I highly recommend this memoir, especially if you are already a fan of Michelle Obama. It is insightful and beautifully written. There are also beautiful pictures in the middle of the book and that’s just nice. The journey is the story, it’s why we’re paying attention to anything at all.