Reviewed by: Caroline
I have seen this book in bookstores in Stockholm, Cairo, Beirut, London, Edinburgh and many other cities and hardly an airport bookstore would not have it. “Becoming” is one of the most advertised books in the past 20 years but doesn’t seem to be a success. It is supposed to be a memoir of an American First Lady, the only black First Lady in the history of the US. She was in the White House for long eight years which witnessed so many important events. Hence, one expects that her book would offer a perception of the events from the prism of someone who was in power. A book that can present a glimpse of the private life of the powerful family. This is not that book.
Not steering clear of clichés
The book starts by painting Michele’s childhood as a boring story centred on the notion that she was a black girl living in a mixed middle-class neighbourhood. Her parents were amazing, she got As at school. Her dad had a nice car. She speaks about the people she met in her childhood with unnecessary focus on their skin colour. Her relationship with Barack is introduced in a superficial way. He is calm and rational and she is smart and passionate. Even when she speaks about meeting his Kenyan family, she presents it as glorious for her. She seems fine with the fact that Barack’s dad was married in Kenya and had two children, then went to the States, got Barack’s mother pregnant, married her, divorced her, and went back to his first wife in his country.
She speaks in detail about all kinds of trivial things in a robotic language. When it comes to interesting, spicy clues about her marriage, these are left out. How Barack didn’t want to marry her while she wanted marriage before having kids (but why?) is written in a way that intends to disclose rather than describe the struggle they had.
What has been left out
I find that the most interesting and important part of the book is how the author, who describes herself as an educated black woman who became the most powerful woman in the world, avoids the important events which happened while she and her husband were in the White House. She does not discuss how she felt when she realised, assuming she did, that her husband is not going to fulfil his promise of shutting down Guantanamo, or when ISIS took over the North of Iraq and parts of Syria, establishing an Islamic caliphate. What did she and her husband thought of the American failure in Afghanistan and Iraq? What did she think about the 2007-2008 financial crisis that destroyed the lives of millions of Americans, many of whom were African Americans? Not a word in the book about Boko Haram that killed thousands of African people, kidnapped African girls and made them slaves. The annexation of Crimea and how Barack Obama allowed Putin to get away with it is not mentioned. All these events took place while the black President was in the White House but are not as important as how she and Barack ate at that restaurant and met that celebrity. She said in “Becoming” that she would never forgive Donald Trump, whose name she mentioned over 18 times, but doesn’t explain why people voted for him. The question of why millions of the people who voted twice for Obama voted for Trump or did not vote at all has been ignored.
It was expected that the ex-First Lady would start by criticising herself and her husband for the many failures and explain why the first black president has failed in improving the situation of the American people. Simple questions such as: are the black people better off after his presidency or not and why? have been dodged.
A tale of a housewife
“Becoming” is a narrative of a housewife who speaks nicely about herself in front of strangers, not someone who wants to educate people and motivate them: she is so great, she comes from an amazing family, everything is fine and dandy. She also opens the family album to entertain her bored to death guest, putting 50 pictures in the small book; in many of them she is being hugged.
It might seem that the book’s main goal was to badmouth Trump and to glorify Michelle.