Michelle Obama’s Becoming is an autobiography that ticks all the correct boxes.
It’s well-written, it’s relatable and most importantly, in this case, it tells the story of people whom, the whole world, myself included, has a fascination with. And yet, as a reader, it left me empty. For me, that hollowness epitomizes my reaction upon reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming.
Whilst examining the reasons for my dissatisfaction with a book which, by all other accounts, has had enormous commercial success, I delved into the recesses of my brain for comparison. Had I read another biography that left me feeling more satisfied or more dissatisfied? And if so, what were those nuances that differentiated a soul-satisfying read from a mediocre one? The answer, unfortunately, lies in the book’s commerciality, political correctness, and the subsequent soullessness.
Like many other individuals around the globe, I have a healthy fascination with the Obama family. They are stereotype-breakers, unique and yet relatable to every minority group globally. So, when provided the opportunity to read a little more about the woman that is the backbone of this family, I jumped at the chance.
I spent three days and nights glued to the book, turning page after page and taking it all in, waiting for that bittersweet emotional tug that I felt sure would come on turning the last page … I waited in vain.
Michelle narrates her ordinary upbringing and details about her early family life in a manner which, to someone less cynical than myself, is as well as inspirational. Any youngster, especially female, reading her words could and should use her story to believe a little more in the power of overcoming one’s circumstances in order to become the very best version of yourself.
Unfortunately, my viewpoint regarding this is a little less rosy-eyed. Perhaps it is the narrator’s over-emphasis on Michelle being of and from “the South-side” and therefore, a common middle-class woman, that makes me question how relatable she actually is. While I’m not debating where and how she was born and brought up, I feel that the narrative tries a little too hard to peg her as a commoner right from the beginning. She is, in fact – extraordinary. Why are we, as readers, not able to celebrate that and read more about what makes her anything but a commoner?
Perhaps also, it’s the impersonal nature of the writing style that left me disappointed. While I enjoyed reading about the facts and events of Michelle’s life, I think I was waiting for more … I was waiting to find out who Michelle Obama is, once the layers are peeled away. What I ended up with were some facts about a successful woman who knows what to say, when to say it, and how to say it in the most politically correct fashion.
Perhaps, here, the title of her book also misled me. I was waiting for those dramatic turning points in her life when she was becoming who she is today. Yet there was nothing of that nature to read about. When we read about great people, we absorb all of those life-changing moments that could have broken them. We weep over the insurmountable hurdles that life threw their way, and we rejoice when these path-breakers, leap over those very hurdles with the strength of their convictions. From the first to the very last page, I remained interested … but dry-eyed.
When reading about her journey from Harvard to meeting and falling in love with Barack Obama, once again, I waited for a little peek into who they really are and what makes them human. Nothing stood out. What made them fall for each other and what is it that kept them together is undoubtedly a sincerity of devotion and commitment, despite the difficulties of living life under multiple spotlights. And yet again, none of that comes through in the writing.
As a woman, a mother and a minority, I have immense respect for Michelle Obama and all that she has attained so far in life. However, Becoming is, for me, a re-affirmation of the power of brands. Companies, over the years, have spun tales about their products. One brand is pushed onto the unassuming public as wholesome, while another is excitement personified. Becoming is the story of another brand – the brand that is Michelle Obama. Unfortunately, I’ve stopped believing in fairy tales. My soul craves raw sincerity instead.