Since stepping reluctantly into public life, I’ve been held up as the most powerful woman in the world and taken down as an ‘angry black woman’. I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most – is it ‘angry’ or ‘black’ or ‘woman’?
Read in May 2020
Disclaimer: I realize this is not the best time for me to write this review, quite on the contrary. It is now time to listen to black voices, to spread their message, to learn and to educate ourselves. I want you to know that my intention is not to depreciate or diminish this book, quite on the contrary, the fact that this book exists and is so huge is an amazing thing. Also, I won’t pretend I know best the struggles of a black woman in the US, because I really don’t. I admire and respect Michelle Obama on so many levels, however, I have to confess that I didn’t love this book – even though I gave it almost 4 stars, I feel like it’s an unpopular opinion to give it anything other than a five-star rating. In this review I’ll discuss what I liked but also what I liked less in the most benevolence way possible, if you don’t feel like reading this review, I would totally understand. If you feel like it after reading this disclaimer and want to respectfully discuss with me (or not), I’d be happy if you reach out to me in the comment or by PM. That’s being said, if you’re still reading me, I’ll try to make this review coherent and deal with it following the book’s timeline.
Before writing an actual review, I have to say it one more time, I admire Michelle Obama so much! She brought the word role-model to a whole new level. She showed the world that a woman could be powerful and kind, a dedicated wife while being independent, and in the book, she wrote about how she was single and still accomplished. I already knew her to be a feminist but I didn’t really know the extent of it before reading Becoming. I decided to pick this book as soon as I heard about it, I’m really not a fan of biography, this is basically my first one ever, but I wanted to know more about her, I knew nothing of her life before becoming First Lady of the United States so I was for sure interested in that, but I also wanted to know more about her actions while being FLOTUS. My first wish was granted, but my second one, not so much, but I’ll come to that later.
“The easiest way to disregard a woman’s voice is to package her as a scold.”
First of all, let’s talk about the format, I mostly listened to the audiobook version of this book (even though I went back and forth with the ebook version), and I would really recommend it. I really love it when the author narrates their own books, and I guess it makes even more sense when this book is a biography. The fact that I was actually listening to Michelle Obama telling me directly her story created some sort of intimacy that was extremely enjoyable and compelling. I have to say that Michelle Obama has a way with words, I highlighted twelve full pages of quotes, not counting the times when I was too lazy to go back on my kindle to highlight something I heard in the audiobook. My only complaint is that I found this book/audiobook too long, and unfortunately, my attention wavered during some parts. I remember thinking while reading/listening that some parts could be edited out and the book would still keep its powerful voice. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m not used to biographies or something, but I was really disappointed to find myself a bit bored while reading about such an amazing woman.
The first half of this book was extremely enlightening, I had no idea Michelle Obama’s father died of the consequences of MS, and since I also have MS, it really made me cry many times to read it from the perspective of a child. It’s totally unrelated to the actual political purpose of this book, but we can clearly see how impacted she was by her father’s illness (and inevitably his death), and it touched me personally. She really managed to transcript her younger voice, because when we read about how she first encountered inequalities and injustices it was believable. Sad and unfortunately true, but also extremely interesting to read. Reading about her growing up was a part I could easily give five stars to, because all of it was told in a genuine voice and was relevant to understand her as a grown-up. One of the parts I was expecting the most was her meeting with Barack and their early life together, and this is where things started to not work so much anymore for me.
“Bullies were scared people hiding inside scary people.”
Unfortunately, I found this part a bit repetitive. It was constantly about Barack starting yet another political campaign, and Michelle being demoted to ‘wife-of’. She kind of lost her own voice during those chapters, she wasn’t the hero of her story anymore. It’s around one-quarter of this book and it really shouldn’t have been, because there was not much to say in my opinion. Honestly, I almost DNF when I reached that part, and I probably would have if I wasn’t waiting to read her time as a First Lady of the United States even more. This is also when I started to feel like she was trying a little too hard to oversell her family. She had a Bree Van de Kamp vibe, always telling how perfect her daughters were (well I guess all daughters are perfect in the eyes of their mothers), and how her husband could do no wrong even though he was never home. Honestly, Barack Obama was so high in my opinion before reading this book, I saw him as the perfect father and husband, but in this part, I really felt like he was neglecting his family over politics and yet Michelle kept telling how he could do no wrong. It honestly made me doubt her words or opinions for the remaining of her book and I kind of lost the connection I felt with her on the first half.
This part was slightly better than the previous one because we got to learn more about behind-the-scene Michelle, about her fights, the subjects she decided to advocate. But still, I had the feeling she was trying to show the world how good a president was her husband, to justify how he really cared for the American citizens, how committed he was to the job… All of a sudden some parts became a political statement and they even almost felt like propaganda sometimes. I really felt like this book’s purpose was to restore the Obama’s image and it was a bit frustrating because, of course, when you take the time to pick and read this book, then you’re most likely a sympathizer if not, you probably have better things to do with your time. Like for instance, I would never read a biography written by Melania Trump, because I just don’t care about her or her life. So why put so much energy into trying to convince us of things I was already convinced of? It had the opposite effect on me since it just made me question them.
“I grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and I also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where an education can take you far. I had nothing, or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.”
Overall, this book is super interesting, it made me learn so much, and I’m happy I’ve read it, but some part made me question the reliability of Michelle Obama as an author and in the end, the parts I was the more excited about were the one I enjoyed the less.
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?