′Becoming′ Michelle Obama | Books | DW | 13.11.2018
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'Becoming' Michelle Obama

She's not a fan of politics and couldn't smile at Trump's inauguration: The former First Lady's memoir "Becoming" traces her childhood, expands on her time in the White House and provides inspiration for the future.

"I've never been a fan of politics," writes Michelle Obama in her memoir, Becoming.  "And my experience over the last 10 years has done little to change that."

That may sound like an unusual statement from the former First Lady of the United States, whose husband spent 2,923 days in the White House fulfilling his two terms as president. Yet the lawyer from a working class background, raised in a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago's south side, set aside her dislike for politics as she took on her role in the public eye.

Spearheading initiatives that supported veterans and combated childhood obesity, Michelle Obama used her position to draw awareness to the problems many Americans face: poverty, homelessness, lack of access to nutritious food, civil and LGBTQ rights. She likewise used her role to promote American designers — wearing gowns designed by Prabal Gurung, for example — and African-American artists like Amy Sherald, the first Black artist to make an official presidential portrait.

Read more: Barack and Michelle Obama portraits unveiled in Washington

Barack Obama places his hand on a Bible at his inauguration while Michelle looks on (picture-alliance/Zumapress/M. Gail)

The Obamas at the 2013 inauguration

Although she has been compared to Jackie Kennedy, she has carved out a role for herself unlike that of any First Lady before her. Her wisdom, grace and inspirational manner of speaking have worked together to endear her to Americans, many of whom are grieving the loss of Michelle Obama as the public face of the country two years after her husband left office, as this recent tweet by film director Ava DuVernay shows:


Fodder for the hungry

Just what insight and inspiration Obama has to offer can be found in her memoir, Becoming, released November 13, 2018 in 30 languages simultaneously. A best-seller even before the its official release date, Becoming has been highly anticipated — even more so because its contents have been closely guarded.

"Now that Michelle Obama is free, I look forward to her going high — and kicking back," novelist Kiese Laymon wrote in Vanity Fair's December 2018 issue, citing Obama's own words back to her ("When they go low, we go high," she said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy).

Leaving seemingly no topic untouched, Laymon writes, "I want to know what she thinks about income inequality, sexual violence, white supremacy, and American exceptionalism in the face of an opposition whose appetite for going lower has no bounds. I know we will be there accepting whatever she is offering, because we are hungry."

Malia and Sasha Obama (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Douliery)

Obama writes that she has feared for the safety of her two daughters, Malia and Sasha

Becoming Michelle Obama

Those like Laymon who are looking for inspirational fodder will not be disappointed by the memoir. Divided into three parts — "Becoming Me," "Becoming Us" and "Becoming More," — the book is a look at the past, the present and the future. It addresses Obama's working class childhood as it details how certain events, including a confrontation with a childhood bully, have helped to shape her personality and informed her values.

Likewise, she looks back at her husband's decision to run for president and their time spent both on the campaign trail and in public office. In the book, she reveals her fears for her children and their privacy and expresses dismay at the response of several Republicans in Congress to her husband's election. "They would fight everything Barack did, I realized, whether it was good for the country or not," she writes.  "It seemed they just wanted Barack to fail."

Michelle Obama Becoming book cover

Obama is packing stadiums around the US on her book tour, which opens in Chicago Tuesday

Inspired by the personal

Although much will be made of Michelle Obama's opinions about the current US president — one controversial revelation released before the book's debut was that she wrote about her difficulty smiling during the 2017 inauguration due to President Trump's "misogyny" — ultimately, the book serves as a dynamic mixture of memoir and inspirational self-help.

Read more: Dream team Barack and Michelle Obama seal landmark book deal

It is filled with personal reflections that have surprised advanced readers of the book — including the revelation that her daughters were conceived using in vitro fertilization. Yet in it, Obama also offers up a credo intended to inspire those who might be feeling disappointed and eager for a better world.

As she told one interviewer ahead of her forthcoming book tour, which kicks off on stage with Oprah Winfrey in her hometown of Chicago, "Fear is not a proper motivator. Hope wins out."

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