Becoming by Michelle Obama – review

Becoming by Michelle Obama – review
Barack Obama brings Michelle flowers in surprise appearance at her book talk
The former first ladys wit and warmth shine through in an extraordinarily candid account of her life inside and outside the White House

She learned this preliminary lesson well, as her memoir testifies: Becoming serenely balances gravity and grace, uplift and anecdote, though its high-mindedness does permit a few low blows at Barack Obamas villainous successor. A single sentence catches the blend of conscientious bass and giggly treble that makes Michelle simultaneously admirable and adorable. Recalling her teenage friendship with Jesse Jacksons daughter, she says that Santita and I were all for strengthening the character of black youth across America, but we also needed rather desperately to get to the shopping mall before the K-Swiss sneaker sale ended.

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The same complementarity underlies her alliance with her husband. As she tells it, they are opposing forces, like yin and yang. Michelles gregariousness rubs up against Baracks need for pensive solitude. She is a far-sighted planner, whereas he prefers an improvisational zigzag through disparate worlds. She constructs an identity as if tucking and folding a piece of origami; he is an improbable American original, a hybrid of Kenya, Hawaii and Kansas with an Arabic middle name, a one-man melting pot whose mixed ingredients make him eternally ambivalent. Among moneyed Wasps at Princeton, Michelle feels a misfit, poppy seeds in a bowl of rice. Barack suffers no such anxiety: since he is unique, what group or class could he possibly belong to?

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Michelle Obama reveals what life inside the White House is like on Jimmy Kimmel

Her happy informality made her ignore protocol and stoop from her great height to give the Queen a consoling hug

Michelle Robinson had told her mother, Marian Robinson, that she was going to focus on her career and put dating on the back burner. Moreover, she was concerned that the only two black associates at the firm dating each other would look “pretty tacky,” she told Mendell. (There were other black lawyers at the firm, including a partner, Sidley Austin partner Newton Minow told the Washington Post Magazines Liz Mundy for her 2008 book Michelle: A Biography, but he could see how Michelle might have thought otherwise.)

Their relationship develops as a disputatious comedy of manners. At their Chicago law firm, Michelle initially appraises him an exotic geek, then more politely reclassifies him as a unicorn. On their first date, he wears a white linen blazer that resembles a cast-off from Miami Vice. Ah well, she reflects. He also smokes, which disgusts her. All is forgiven, thanks to his noble heart and his encyclopaedic head.

Two terms and two years later, their lives—and the course of history—are forever changed. But at the end of the day, theyre still the loving parents and devoted spouses who moved into the White House 10 years ago. Just a couple of best friends and partners who have experienced both the pinnacle of power and the invigorating pains of starting from nothing, the headiest of highs and miserable lows, the agony of indecision and the satisfaction that comes with knowing youve made the right choice.

Video: Michelle Obama tells Oprah about life in the White House

During their courtship, Barack writes deeply pondered letters while Michelle insists on spontaneous phone calls. Once they are married, his political commitments turn him into a human blur, a pixelated version of the guy I knew. A message saying On my way or Almost home, she learns, is not a geo-locator but a statement of intent; he even leaves her to get pregnant on her own as she angrily stabs syringes into her thigh during a course of in-vitro fertilisation. In the White House, where she makes clothing choices a month in advance and submits to endless primping by stylists, he maintains his loose-jointed Hawaiian casualness and is ready for work as soon as he pulls the same dark suit out of his closet. He doesnt, she adds, even need to comb his hair.

They may still deserve that title, but Michelle—who in Becoming has shared more personal details than ever before since shes been in public life—has effectively and purposely punctured the myth behind the Man and the Woman who made history as the United States first African-American president and first lady, and had no choice but to figure out how to shoulder an unprecedented amount of expectation in the glare of the worlds most demanding spotlight.

Michelle Obama tells how she tried to escape the White House to celebrate equal marriage ruling

Treble and bass clash again and are gently reconciled when Michelle describes the way power institutionalised the two of them as Potus and Flotus or, to use their Secret Service code names, Renegade and Renaissance. She complains about the new heaviness that the presidency brought with it, symbolised by a limo that is a seven-ton tank disguised as a luxury vehicle, tricked out with hidden tear-gas cannons, rupture-proof tyres, and a sealed ventilation system able to withstand a biological or chemical assault. The antidote to this onerous symbolism is her irrepressible lightness of being: her dance moves, her rapping with Jay Pharoah, her karaoke session with James Corden, and the happy informality that made her ignore protocol and stoop from her great height to give the Queen a consoling hug when they first met.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Fun and games outside the White House. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy Michelle treasures her young daughters because they are so indifferent to their fathers vertical ascent. Is he president yet? they asked during the long campaign in 2008, like restive kids in the back seat wanting to know whether theyre there yet. She is even more amused by one of their presidential pets, a dog that refused to be house-trained: why bother, since the executive mansion contained 132 rooms?

Kicking off a cross-country book tour this past week in support of her new memoir, Becoming, Obama has made it clear that she and her husband of 26 years, former President Barack Obama, are at the end of the day only a couple of humans doing the best they can—which has probably come as a shock to the millions whove put them on a pedestal, not just individually but as a unit, the end-all and be-all of what marriage should look like.

Becoming is frequently funny, sometimes indignant or enraged, and when Michelle describes her fathers early death from multiple sclerosis it turns rawly emotional. My favourite scene is a recent one, with Michelle in her new Washington home, alone one evening except for the armed guards in the garage. Feeling peckish, she pads downstairs, barefoot and in her shorts, toasts bread, grills cheese in the microwave, then takes the fat mess of gooey cheddar outside to eat – none of which she would have been allowed to do in the White House, at least not without supervision or fussy assistance. On the veranda, she chomps contentedly, not thinking about the new president, or for the matter the old president either. The character of black youth and the fate of American democracy can wait. Sometimes you just desperately need a calorific midnight snack.

• Becoming by Michelle Obama is published by Viking (£25). To order a copy for £15 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

In early 1987, Jager told Garrow, she witnessed her boyfriend becoming “someone quite extraordinary” after starting out, to her, “quite ordinary.” At the time, “he already had his sights on becoming president.” At the same time, Jager (who is half white, half Japanese) said, he became “brooding, quiet, distant–and it was only then, as I recall, that he began to talk about entering politics and race became a big issue between us.”

Michelle Obama got a surprise appearance at her book talk in Washington D.C. on Saturday night when former President Barack Obama came out with a bouquet of flowers. 

“Very sweet lady, as busy as I am, and so temperamentally well-suite,” Obama wrote to a friend, per Garrow. “Not that there are no strains. Im not really accustomed to having another person underfoot the whole time, and there are moments where I miss the solitude of a bachelors life. On the other hand, winters fast approaching, and it is nice to have someone to come home to after a late nights work. Compromises, compromises.”

The crowd went wild when the former president, dressed casually in a black jacket with no tie and an open-necked white shirt, walked out with pink roses for his wife.

You wont get this at every show, Michelle Obama told the cheering crowd at the packed Capital One Arena. 

This is like when Jay Z comes out, the former president joked, comparing himself to when the rapper came out during wife Beyonces music tours. 

The former president, who came out the tale end of his wifes 90 minute talk, discussed how the couple met at the Chicago law firm of Sidney & Austin, where she was his mentor. 

The former president then kept his story kid-friendly. She was much cuter than I expected and very tall, he said. 

Finally, she recalled, she agreed to go for ice cream. Theres a plaque now commemorating that momentous outing at the Baskin-Robbins at Dorchester and East 53rd Street. It reads, quoting Barack in O: On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate.”

Michelle Obama Talks Life After The White House With Jimmy Kimmel

But the former president laughed off the compliment, which brought cheers and whistles from the crowd: What they miss are those long pauses, he said of his speaking style.

Lets just say, none of it wouldve gotten done, and history very well might not have been made, if not for a few twists of fate. Some of them played out in the based-on-actual-events film Southside With You, which chronicles the Obamas first date in 1989—and others didnt exactly enhance the awkward-meet-cute-blossoms-into-a-fairy-tale narrative.

The former first ladys talk, led by former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, began over an hour late as thousands of fan were left outside in the cold waiting in long lines to get inside the arena.

“I had never taken the train downtown before. It was raining that day,” Barack Obama recalled their first meeting in a video message shown during the Oprah chat. “I wasnt fully equipped with an umbrella. The bottom line is, when I walk into Michelles office, not only am I late, Im also kind of damp. So its not clear whether I made the best impression.”

Video: Michelle Obama Takes A Slight Swipe At President Trump During Her Book Tour! | Access

Dressed in a black pants suit, sparkling brooch and stiletto heels, the former first lady came out to a standing ovation at the Capital One Arena, which is just a few blocks from the White House. 

Video: Michelle Obama Takes A Slight Swipe At President Trump During Her Book Tour! | Access

Her talk was tailored to her heavily female audience, talking about the difficulties she faced in her childhood as the child as working class parents, as a black woman trying to get into the Ivy League and her struggles as a young mother to balance her personal priorities with raising her children.

Early on, that uncertainty often manifested itself in me as a need to prove myself to others, whether that was my classmates or my teachers and school counsellors. But the more time I spent around those other students, the more I realized that I had perspectives, experiences and skills to offer that they might not. The boys in class who were doing all the talking? I saw that a lot of times they didnt really know what they were talking about. Those kids whose family had all that money? A lot of them, they didnt really understand the way the world worked. It took a while, but I saw that my modest upbringing was an asset. And slowly, I began to build some confidence and recognize an even deeper truth about myself: it wasnt other people I was trying to prove myself to, it was myself.

Barack Obama makes surprise appearance at Michelles D.C. event | TheHill

It was mostly political free with most of the focus on her childhood, her career before becoming first lady, and raising her children. 

In the years since, the issues Ive been working on have often changed – from working in city government, to leadership development, to community engagement, to the issues of health, education and supporting military families that I focused on in the White House. But what hasnt changed is the way my work makes me feel. I believe in the goals Im pursuing and they resonate with my values and my vision for the kind of communities – and the kind of world – I want to live in. I feel like Im connected to something larger than myself. I felt something of professional emptiness before I shifted to the public sector. I believe that once you make your way through life, climbing your way up the ladder, its your responsibility to reach back and help someone else do the same.

And there was not a lot of focus on the Obamas post-White House life either, although Michelle Obama noted she and her husband recently had a talk on what they had accomplished as the first couple.

Video: Things Michelle Obama Couldnt Say as First Lady

We havent had time to reflect over these past eight years because we had to be prefect. We had to do everything right, she said of their tenure as the first black couple to inhabit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are clearly so many vital issues we need to make progress on, and rather than pick and choose one – immigration or healthcare or womens rights or anything like that – I think weve got to prioritize an issue that can help us address them all. And thats voting. That means protecting and expanding voting rights for every eligible voter, certainly, but even more than that, it means doing whatever we can to encourage more people to exercise their right to vote, not just in big elections when tensions are high or people are excited or angry, but in every election at every level. Thats as true in the United States as it is in the UK or anywhere else – well be able to solve a lot more of our problems when more people are participating in the process.

The crowd responded warmly to Michelle Obama after waiting to hear her story. The Capital One Arena holds 20,000 and was nearly filled to capacity. 

But her talk, scheduled to begin at 8 pm, started shortly after 9 pm. At 8 pm many seats in the venue were empty due to the massive lines outside. 

Theres also my great-aunt Robbie, whom I write about in the beginning of my memoir. Our family lived in a very small apartment on the second floor of her house when I was growing up. She was a schoolteacher who directed a church choir and taught the neighborhood kids piano lessons, including me. She was a bit of a taskmaster, very finickety in the way she taught piano, and we butted heads from time to time, but there was a warmth and love that flowed beneath everything. I loved her independence, her strength and her compassion. She was a big part of my support structure in those formative years.

The street in front of the arena was shut down early as lines of fans bled into it and stretched down the block.

Of course, I also look up to all the greats – Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Oprah, Marian Wright Edelman and so many others. But to me, the people who impact you are the people that you know. Its good to take cues from the history books, but if you want to learn how to live your life, I hope theres someone close to you who can be a good model. The way Ive always thought about it is: if I can reflect the wisdom of my mother, the independence of my great-aunt and the quiet confidence of my grandmother while still forging my own path, then Ill be doing pretty well.

T-shirt vendors hawked wares with Obamas book title and photo while scalpers asked for any extra tickets to the conversation.

I also adored my grandmother LaVaughn Robinson, my fathers mother, from whom I got my middle name. Dutiful in her prayers and churchgoing, she was a quiet presence, with a very soft and sweet voice. She never yelled, or even spoke very sternly. As a little girl, I also had the opportunity to see her at the Bible bookstore she managed, running the place with precision, making sure the whole operation was humming. She carried herself with this wonderful mix of grace and confidence. She was one of the first professional women I could look up to, a woman who knew what was going on.

In her talk, Michelle Obama recounted how she was criticized by feminists for putting her focus on her children in her early months in the White House.

I think it should look an awful lot like a boys curriculum – math and science, sports and arts, history, writing and reading, everything. I think girls can do everything boys can, so we should treat them like it from an early age. Thats something my father did for me. I have an older brother, and when we were little, my dad bought him boxing gloves – but he also bought me some, too, and I learned how to throw a punch. We shouldnt be sending messages to girls that there are things they cant do – because theres nothing that a girl cant do.

There were women – who when I said I wanted to be mom in chief – there were women, feminists, who were critical of that, the former first lady recalled during a talk in Washington D.C. on Saturday night promoting her new memoir Becoming.

Michelle Obama struggled to conceive after miscarriage

She talked about the changes daughters Malia and Sasha faced after Barack Obama was elected president.

They have motorcades our kids, they still do, three car motorcades, she said, recalling a photo that appeared in the media of Sasha with her face pressed to the car window, watching photographers take her picture on the way to school. 

I guess its that my family would come out OK. When we entered the White House, I really didnt know how it was all going to turn out for us as a family. The whole thing was so far removed from anything wed experienced or anyone wed known had gone through. I was extremely worried about raising our daughters in that environment, with butlers ready to bring them anything they wanted and photographers hoping to snap a picture of them any time they stepped foot outside the house. It just isnt a normal way to raise kids, you know?

Obama said her first priority was her children and making sure they were okay before she could begin working on issues she was interested in. 

Kiss and tell: Michelle memoir tells how she and Obama met

I had to make sure they will be okay before I could do anything for the rest of the country, she said.

Beyond the practical side, though, my mom was my support in even deeper ways. She was often home when Id come back to the residence after a day of work, sitting in her chair, watching Judge Judy or something like that. Wed just chat about everything – what shed heard from the girls, how my day was going, anything that was on my mind. When something was bothering me, Mom was often the first person Id talk to. She knows that sometimes I just need to get something off my chest before I can go about my business.

Our Favorite Moments From Michelle Obamas Memoir

I could be a great mom and do all these initiatives, she said of her work with Lets Move, which focused on healthy eating, and Joining Forces, which helped military families.

Ha! I love this question. Im still staying busy, but I have fewer obligations and more control over my own schedule. Im able to move a bit more freely, spending time with friends and taking some time for myself. Theres no one following my husband around with the nuclear codes. Life, of course, will never be the same. I still have security with me and I cant really go anywhere without being noticed. But I can do it more nimbly, more discreetly. So all of that is to say that, yes, life feels much lighter now.

First lady Melania Trump faced similar criticism when she chose to stay in New York for the first few months of her husbands presidency so their son Barron could finish out his school year. 

Michelle Obama never mentioned her successor as first lady or the current occupant of the Oval Office, but she did talk about how she insisted her husband leave work at 6:30 every night to have dinner with her and the girls.

She said she felt it was important for him to have down time where Putin wasnt invited to the dinner table and Syria wasnt invited in, she said of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Syria.

Special guest drops in on Michelle Obamas book show

She noted it was a time for them to talk as a family and for President Obama to catch up with his daughters.

Malia was advocating him to save the tigers. That was one of her big issues for a long time, Obama noted.

Time can get out of hand for busy people and for busy men, she said, adding I didnt want my kids to grow up feeling, especially as girls, that life was about waiting for the man in the house.

But she emphasized her husbands dedication to the country, saying he often worked until 1 oclock or 2 oclock in the morning. 

Michelle Obama praised her parents in her talk and said her father Fraser Robinson treated her the same as her brother

The former first lady also expanded on her famous speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when she said her advice to her girls was when they go low, we go high.

Michelle Obama didnt mention President Donald Trump, whom she has spoken about in previous events surrounding her book tour, but she did talk about the toxic political climate and shared her frustration with it. 

In her memoir Becoming, Obama wrote that she gave up on trying to smile during Trumps inauguration – which is evidenced be a number of photos from the day where she appears especially forlorn.

Someone from Baracks administration might have said that the optics there were bad, that what the public saw didnt reflect the Presidents reality or ideals, but in this case, maybe it did, she wrote. 

She didnt comment directly on Trump during her talk Saturday night but she admitted there were times she told her husband he needed to say something about the political vitriol.

There are so many times when, like you, I just want him to curse them out, she said as the audience applauded.

But, she said, the former president didnt want to go there. He said thats not the point. Its not just about your own ego. You have to be president for the whole country. 

She added: Were now living in a time when you see going high and you see going low and you have to ask yourself what feels better. 

Michelle Obama reveals she snuck out of White House to celebrate gay marriage ruling

Michelle Obama expanded on her famous when they go low, we go high remark she made in support of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

Much of Michelle Obamas talk focused on her time before the White House, shes seen here with mom Marian Robinson and daughters Sasha and Malia the inauguration for her husbands second term

Barack Obama was the surprise guest at Michelle Obamas book show

She also talked about the rushed frenzy to transition from their home in Chicago after the election to life in the White House. 

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The transition of presidents is pretty remarkable and its kind of dumb because youre supposed to do so much in so little time, she said. Your life changes instantly.

She recalled how the heavy Secret Service protection kicked in, world leaders called, staff were hired and a transition team was formed all in the space of a few days.   

Our house looked like a nuclear bomb went off in it, she recalled of trying to pack up their Chicago life for life in the White House. We left like someone said get out and we took only what we could. 

Michelle Obama Reveals Things She Couldnt Say as First Lady and More Kimmel Interview Highlights

And she laughed that the inauguration parade is really just a stalling tactic so staff can move out the belongs of the previous president and move in the items for the new family.  

She recalled her bewilderment of walking into the White House after the inauguration ceremony, the luncheon and the parade and not knowing how to get around or where any of her things were.  

Michelle Obama snuck out the White House to celebrate marriage equality

We had been surrounded by staff, she said and noted because of the long presidential campaign: We hadnt been alone for two years. 

She remembered how her husband disappeared to change and she couldnt find him, her mother, her daughters or any staff.

Jimmy Kimmel Begs Michelle Obama to Save Us from Trump

She said she picked her white inauguration gown because of the designer, Jason Wu, and not the dress itself. 

So what ever dress he makes thats the dress Im going to wear, she recalled deciding, adding that she thought the dress turned out beautiful. 

Michelle Obama addressed how she was portrayed in her husbands 2008 presidential campaign; shes pictured with him here in January 2008 after he won the South Carolina primary

She touched on the 2008 presidential campaign, where she had been portrayed as an angry black woman. 

Michelle Obama wears curls on the cover of Essence

I had never campaigned really, she said, noting she had not done much work on her husbands Senate campaign.  

I realized that no one had every prepared me. I never had media training. I never had public speaking. It was just me and a couple of staffers, she added. 

She said she was attacked by her husbands political opponents as part of an effort to tear down his campaign. 

It wasnt until I wasnt being beaten down badly, she added that she got staff, support, and a communications director.

Michelle Obama Says Things She Could Never Say As First Lady On Kimmel

It took that crisis that made me realize no one is going to give me the help I need. I had to demand it, she said. I got more control.

She added: I realized politics is a game and noted that I realized if you dont have control of your story and your voice someone will take it and destroy it.  

She laughed as she recalled campaigning for her husbands first presidential bid while raising Sasha and Malia.  

5 am and I get my hair done ladies because you cant campaign until you get your hair done, she said.