Author: Michelle Obama
Genre: Memoir; non-fiction
What it’s about: Michelle Obama details her life, from the time as a young girl in the South Side of Chicago, to the time she left the White House for good. She speaks of her family life in the apartment on Euclid Avenue above her great-uncle and great aunt, from whom she learned piano, and how she persevered in school throughout the years, despite her doubts that she was not good enough. Occasionally, she touches upon her father’s disability, and how her parents handled that, supporting her brother and her equally, no matter what. Then she focuses on her time in Princeton, and Harvard, before speaking about her time at the law firm in Chicago, where she and Barack met. Michelle talks about her marriage to Barack, their miscarriage and finally their daughters. She goes on to speak of the trials of campaigning that her husband went through in his runs for Illinois State Senator, and finally the US Senator. She depicts her own challenges on the campaign trail on behalf of Barack, her worries for her children and her sense of self, showing how difficult choices had to be made, but that she carried them with dignity. She explains the difficulties of adjusting to life as a First Lady, being in the White House, and trying to raise her daughters and keep her family intact amidst the historic changes that happen in the White House, while also solving problems close to her heart—such as childhood obesity, mentorship of diverse individuals, and aiding military families.
My Verdict: I read this book out of sheer curiosity because it was a best seller, and people seemed to be polarized about it at the time. Personally, the Obama’s Presidency affected me less than the Trump Presidency, because I was out of the country for 4 of the 8 years, though I am aware that some tendrils of policy affected me.
At first, the book was pretty bland, and I had a hard time getting into it, mostly because I didn’t find Michelle’s Elementary through Princeton years particularly interesting. There wasn’t much shared, and it pretty much followed the same trajectory as almost everyone else, though it was nice being introduced to Michelle’s family, as well as the doubts that she faced, and her stubbornness. I guess the point of this section was to set the stage of who she was as a child, and how that came to shape her personality in the way that we know through her time at the White House. That said, I feel like this section could have gotten the point across in less pages.
The parts where she meets Barack Obama is the parts where I feel we see her blossom and see more of her personality, because she was being challenged in ways that she hadn’t been until that point—she had simply been a train on a track, thinking that her career at the law firm was what she had to do even though she wasn’t interested in it. When Barack came around, he encouraged her to follow her heart, and that’s when her story became an inspiration. To see the challenges that she’s overcome in her professional and personal life, and the sacrifices both of them made in terms of jobs, and raising their daughters when it came to Barack’s politics made me realize that she’s just as human as the rest of us.
Michelle writes her memoir in an honest manner, not holding back any punches. I found it really refreshing that she’d write “I don’t remember what happened or what was said” but then talk about the result. This is something that I feel a lot of autobiographies and biographies don’t do, being written with the scope of having to be perfectly detailed on every aspect of the person’s life. In many ways, seeing this phrase is what endeared Michelle’s memoir to me—she’s being honest in the way that she’s supposed to—humans can’t remember every single day of their lives and the minutiae details of what happened on those days. I also particularly loved Barack’s proposal to Michelle—the way that he’d laid a trap for her to debate with him about marriage, leaving her unsuspecting of what was about to happen—and it made me smile because it’s rare that a person knows another so well and bring a twist to everything at the end. And lastly, I understand Michelle’s doubt and the struggle that faced when she worked at the law firm.
I will never in full understand Michelle’s life—there are many things that we experienced differently; however the doubt, and the feeling of being stuck is one I understand well. I’ve doubted my abilities to do certain things for a while, and that is such a killer of dreams before you’ve even had a chance to try them. As a result, I’d ended up working in a large corporate firm at a job that I was really darn good at, but after a while it wore me down. Seeing Michelle go through her own doubts, with the support of Barack, and just take the jump when she could has inspired me to do so myself.
Overall, the memoir was good, and certainly gave me a level of respect for Michelle. If you’re looking to learn more about the Former First Lady, then this is certainly a book you want to read.