Thursday, January 03, 2019

Review: Becoming

Becoming Becoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I add about this book?! There is an excellent recent review by Isabel Wilkerson in the New York Times There is also a slightly earlier interview with Michelle Obama herself, talking about her favourite reads and reading habits.

I have lived in the USA through the eight years discussed in her book, as well as the previous two iterations, but largely as an expat, and I can attest how different and how critical her husband's (and her as FLOTUS) tenure was to the history of this place. It was actually that period of time of some unusual change and hope for a more civilized society that finally propelled me to start taking part in civic life here. The ugly elections thereafter only make Michelle Obama's book and her motto of living in real world, while working for a better future so much more important - she comes back to it again and again, saying that this country is strange and unpredictable, many entrenched paradigms go back to far less enlightened times, and to turn this around, we need mainly two things, more active voters and more educated voters. She specifically addresses raising educated voters, especially female voters, practically from birth, and giving access to public life to citizens from all backgrounds. Everything she says throughout every chapter comes back to that point - it is not about her, as much as her carrying the torch for all women and the younger generations. While she is speaking about her path into civic life from the pages of the book, the reader learns quite a bit about the public sector, social services and issues of equality and access, as well as its history and trends.

Of course the book is peppered with entertaining details of her family life, humorous recounts of getting used to security detail and learning diplomatic code, and as the NYT reviewer has noted, is written in a lively suspenseful way that keeps us turning the pages for the next episode of the Obama courtship or campaign trail story. Through all of this, she does not attempt to compare her achievements with her husband's heavy load as POTUS, but gives voice and visibility to her initiatives, motivated exactly by considerations of making education and health important and accessible to younger generations in the hope they will help bring about lasting positive change. What was interesting to me is that she has stayed open and critical about other politicians on the Washington circuit, and does not pare down her remarks to be polite and obliging. Only once does she mention the current FLOTUS, and it is on the day they are observing, as is the requirement, the inauguration ceremony of 2017. She mentions her successor by name without even a tiny detail of any interaction with her, which makes us believe the traditional tour of the White House to show her the view of the rose garden from the dressing room may have never taken place....

I have only recently gotten to reading biographies, and as we all know, some of them are heavy stuff. It took me a couple months of fits and starts to finally finish a short book about a WWII double spy. This one by contrast reads like one big breath of fresh air. Michelle Obama names and thanks every person on her team for helping birth this book and make it a success. Politics or no politics, Michelle Obama is a gifted person and an outstanding human being, and this book should be recommended, read and passed along. Could not be happier to see it be the No 1 non-fiction book in the NYT charts.

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