News, Culture & Society

Michelle Obama’s ’emotionally authentic’ memoir, Becoming

Why Michelle tried to set up a blind date for scruffy Obama

When Michelle Robinson, a hot-shot lawyer at a fancy Chicago firm, was introduced to the new intern she’d been assigned to mentor, she was not impressed. Not only did Barack Obama have a tongue-twisting name, but he was late for everything, had questionable taste in clothes and, worst of all, he smoked. For alpha-woman Robinson, who’d propelled herself from blue-collar beginnings to the heart of corporate America by dint of working harder and smarter than anyone else, here was the opposite of everything – and everyone – she had ever wanted for herself.

The real challenge for Michelle Obama has always been dealing with the endless comments that come with being a black woman in public life

We know how the story ends, of course, with Michelle Robinson becoming Michelle Obama, not to mention First Lady of the United States. All the same, this brilliantly written and emotionally authentic memoir fills in some important gaps. She is candid, for instance, about how she tried to set up the scruffy intern on a blind date with a friend before realising that, actually, she wanted him for herself. Not only is he just about the cleverest man she’s ever met, he has a ‘noble heart’ and cares more than anyone she knows about social justice. The fact that he is pretty damn hot hardly hurts either.


In the God-fearing US, more citizens believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim than accept the theory of evolution.

Inevitably, being married to a man who turns into ‘a human blur’ once he decides to run for political office is no walk in the park. Michelle tells us how she insists on checking in at one point for some marriage counselling to deal with the way that they no longer find time to talk to each other. Even more traumatic is the fact that she can’t get pregnant – it’s the first time she’s ever failed at anything in her life. There is nothing lonelier, she explains, than injecting yourself in the thigh every morning while your husband is busy being brilliant on the other side of the country.

 Michelle Obama at her high school graduation in 1981

 Michelle Obama at her high school graduation in 1981

Once the Obamas, now the delighted parents of Malia and Sasha, are at the White House, life becomes even more surreal. No one is allowed to open a window, even on the most sweltering day, in case an assassin takes a pot shot. Ordering food regularly from the supermarket is out of the question since it makes the family vulnerable to a poison plot. Instead, teams of undercover White House shoppers make random trips to different stores to buy peanut butter and sushi. And then there’s the fact that the First Lady’s new clothes have to be stress-tested before they are deemed fit for purpose. Michelle spends a lot of time waving her arms, jumping and squatting in the privacy of her bedroom before she can risk going before the world’s merciless gaze.

Michelle Obama with her husband Barack on the 2008 presidential campaign trail

Michelle Obama with her husband Barack on the 2008 presidential campaign trail

It’s not just her clothes that are subject to constant scrutiny. The real challenge for Michelle Obama, of course, has always been dealing with the endless comments that come with being a black woman in public life. While her rise from working-class Chicago to the White House via Princeton and Harvard might seem like the quintessential American Dream, there are still plenty of Americans who feel it is a dream that belongs to white people alone. With remarkable forbearance, she describes how she has been constantly body-shamed – her butt is too big, she is actually a transsexual male. She has even been instructed to rein in her natural passion about social justice for fear of seeming like ‘an angry black woman’. That she writes about these outrages with such grace, style and, yes, humour makes Becoming not just a fascinating read but a genuinely moving one too.



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