Unabridged Audiobook : 19 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Michelle Obama
Non fiction for me is a reference book, not reading about people’s real lives. I much prefer fictional representations of the real or imagined worlds. Yet the odd one or two autobiographies have recently slipped into my to be read pile. Maybe I’m changing and opening up my genre picker or perhaps it’s because it covers the themes that I’m interested in for instance family, friendship, love, marriage and the direction of the world.
I was drawn to Becoming not only because it was a best seller with great reviews, about a prominent, intelligent black woman and the wife of a previous President of the USA. But because I didn’t really know much about Michelle Obama herself and that was intriguing. I choose the audio version for the additional personal touch to the memoir.
The audiobook is 19 hours long which is a commitment, one you won’t regret if it’s a brilliant read, though off-putting for a mediocre one. Fortunately, Becoming was well written, excellently narrated and an enjoyable read.
What I loved
Michelle Obama writes movingly about her family history including childhood, her time as a lawyer and her marriage. She uses these contexts to discuss race, sex, gender, employment, community and naturally politics. The length could make you think that there would be periods where the content or delivery would be mediocre, onerous or boring.
It was not any of those things. Becoming was engaging, funny, and thoughtful. A refreshing recap of the life so far of an interesting, politically and culturally important woman’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved her childhood, school years and University days. Particularly her family’s warmth and the characters therein. When we moved on to the marriage years, initially I thought there was too much American politics and Barack Obama; encroaching and derailing the narrative. Then I considered her life, occupation and interests. She was front and centre of current events, living, making history. That was her life – so naturally that’s what she regaled us with.
Michelle Obama, knows how to write to engage, to deliver on point commentaries and this is reflected in her narration. The emotion conveyed by tone, the inflection was superb. It was measured but the emotion came through beautifully, there was joy, happiness, equally you could tell when she was frustrated, annoyed, heart broken even. Michelle Obama’s feelings were clear in her voice when she was discussing falling in love, movingly about the death of her friend Suzanne or her father’s illness at the end of his life.
There is never too much honesty
I loved her honesty: telling us all about her faux pas (on the campaign trail, with Queen Elizabeth II, etc), her victories, worries and triumphs. However no one should be embarrassed about what she shared in Becoming, it was carefully curated and delivered.
Michelle Obama’s time in the White House is covered in sufficient detail. We saw that behind the scenes Barack Obama’s opportunity to influence, to make decisions that matter, to directly affect the nation and world constricted their personal life and freedoms. The relentless publicity and scrutiny, meant to keep public figures accountable is also a challenge in many ways. Meaning the inability to be spontaneous or anonymous; things could never be the same again.
What you had to give up to go forward in life when you signed on for a lifetime of Us.Paraphrase of Michelle Obama
She showed us about the complexities of marriage and compromise. And the reality of life for the political candidates’ spouse, children and wider family. I questioned was it worth it to have to constantly balance the public’s genuine need to know over the salacious and sensationalist news. The perpetual presence of their security detail. Having to prioritise the convenience of others before yourself over and over. Having to take a backseat in parental duties to ensure that her children got the age appropriate experiences and opportunities that they needed and were entitled to.
Plum tuckered out or energised?
Having listened to 19 hours, unbelievably I don’t think it’s too much. There’s still much more to learn about her. However I know the essentials, the things that matter: about a person’s character, interests, beliefs and opinions.
What gladden me
Michelle Obama has managed to share without revealing every significant private moment. She wasn’t inscrutable yet she has kept a core that for herself, family and friends. Touché
She has been honed by politics and knows that it’s not just what you say but how you say it, when and where you said it. Your body language and frustratingly if you’re a woman, what you were wearing when you said it also counts.
I’m glad that Michelle Obama has risen above the negativity thrown her way (Angry black woman trope among others), overcome it and became the person she is and was meant to be.
Becoming is a book that we all should make the time to read.