Friday 5 February 2021

Review by Jo Jenkins of "Becoming" by Michelle Obama

Fresh from the White House, Michelle Obama found herself with a sense of freedom she’d almost forgotten and an opportunity, at last, to take a breath. Becoming, written at a time of reflection after a significant change in her life, is a deep dive into her past, to better understand her choices, character, struggles and successes before considering what to do next. I am the same age as Obama and can relate to her sense of being betwixt and between, young enough to live life to the full but, perhaps with a greater sense of urgency and need to get it right from now on. 

In her autobiography she details her early family life through to the end of her husband’s presidency. It isn’t quite a rags-to-riches story, but there is a stark contrast between her childhood and her adult life. However, it is apparent early on in the book that what matters to Obama was never money. The overriding sense of her early years is one of joy, love, security and seriousness. She was a quiet, studious girl determined to succeed and surrounded by a family who encouraged her and sparked an interest in activism.  


She focuses less on her family’s financial position and much more on the relationships that formed her. She understood her family’s history with links to slavery and the injustices experienced by her grandfather, unable to get a union card because he was Black. This important theme runs through the book and the significance of her arrival in the White House, as a descendent of enslaved African Americans, is immense. 


From her childhood, through her teen years, university and into her career as a lawyer, Obama is aware of the important opportunities available to her that had been denied to her forebears. She meets and is influenced by other women of colour who guide and encourage her and, of course, her most important relationship, her marriage, takes her in a direction which enables her to encourage and influence the generations of young Black women who follow. Obama has embraced her position as a role model, not just for her own daughters but for girls around the globe. In looking back at her own life, she can see that it is relationships that have shaped her more than circumstances. 


The book is, first and foremost, a simple autobiography--it does document her life and it provides the reader with plenty of juicy snippets of life in the White House, even giving some insight into Barack. Michelle Obama's writing though, cleverly blends the details of her life into a social commentary, stressing the importance of relationships, strong positive role models and community activity. It is a welcome antidote to individualism, advocating a route to success which rewards hard work and determination, and providing a beacon of hope for us all, but particularly for young women. 

About the reviewer
Jo Jenkins lives in Portsmouth and runs her own business selling children's clothes. She's a keen baker, cyclist and Archers listener.

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