So this morning I just finished Becoming by Michelle Obama. This much discussed book is likely or has already been identified as the most read or listened to autobiography/memoir of all time. Some of my former students, of this long retired history teacher would no doubt find it hard to believe, when I say, for this review I’m at a loss for words. What is there to say that won’t sound like a bunch of hackneyed clichés or overdrawn superlatives?' I'll try to choose my words carefully and with restraint.
Becoming is a book exactly about that. How a child and then a young girl grew up first in a racially diverse mostly blue-collar working-class neighborhood on the south side Chicago. Her rock-solid family was anchored by a father who despite serious physical handicaps worked a full-time job for the city, never complained and brought laughter and fun to all those around him. Then there was her mother, who fostered in her children that with no excuses they should always strive to be the best that they could be. Incidentally, this should always include using proper grammar Finally, there was an older brother who steadfastly protected his little sister and often paved the way for her on their mutual road to success. As we know, it is often the case that our early childhood sets the template for who we become.
Each following candid chapter reveals more and more of the becoming theme. Michelle’s high school years were marked by the effects of the white migration to the new suburbs. The south side of Chicago began to suffer the effects and trauma of poverty, crime and drugs. The self-actualization of the word "ghetto" only worsened the problems. In the mostly black high school, which Michelle attended, she was asked "why are you so white? Grammatically correct English was no doubt a factor there.
In succeeding chapters we meet a striving young woman who regularly asked herself she was “good enough?” Needless to say she was both while attending an elite Ivy League university and beginning work at a Chicago law firm where she hoped someday to become “a partner.” Obviously both of these institutions were largely white and mostly male-dominated.
The next chapters becoming for Michelle involves an unlikely romance and marriage involving two people so different in their upbringing and lifestyle one can hardly imagine how in the end it all works so well. Of course, the last becoming involves politics and the White House. Here the details are rich and compelling and include an evolving marriage and raising two girls as normally as possible in the White House. There is some disdain for politics at the beginning of the stages but overall little rancor, Michelle’s tagline "when they go low, we go high” pretty well sums it all up what is left out in these final chapters. We saw all the lows on national television. The highs in those White House years when a special woman and her family did us all proud.
So now as I promised, without all the superlatives and clichés I could think of, I will simply say this is the best autobiography/memoir I have ever read. And to those who for whatever reason have yet to read it I believe anyone who approaches this story with an open mind and a little empathy will find it touches the heart.
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