BOOK REVIEW: BECOMING

Title: Becoming

Author: Michelle Robinson Obama

Extent: 426 Pages

Price:  Ksh 2800 Prestige Bookshop

Reviewer: Rumona Apiyo.

I, too, I’m Becoming

Michelle Robinson Obama, the girl from the South, sparkled our bookshelves with fresh tales from her childhood to becoming the FLOTUS. Hers is a story with fresh breath that sprung up the flowers of spring in the buds of the readers, especially those of us with big dreams but are disadvantaged by our backgrounds, self-esteem, poverty etc. This is why I will write a very long review of her memoir, Becoming.

Becoming Me

Childhood memories are always sacrosanct. Growing up, Michelle played with other kids from the neighborhood; she fought some girl, played with the dolls and walked around with her brother Craig who was an astute basketballer. The Robinsons shared an apartment with Auntie Robbie who tutored children from the neighboring blocks how to play piano. While Craig –learnt from his aunt peacefully, Michelle was stubborn. 

 Mariana, Michelle’s mother stayed at home to knit their clothes and prepared lunch for them  while her father, Fraser, worked most of his time. “We were our parents’ investment, they gave us their all,” writes Michelle.

While at the elementary school, after Michelle’s constant complaints about by  her teacher, Mariana visited Michelle’s school and talked some sense into the teacher whom she thought was better off a cashier than a teacher. Mariana joined the school parents’ association. Her efforts saw the school – and Michelle perform well. Michelle joined Whitney Young for her junior High.

Typical of every young girl out here, Michelle constantly battled with the question of whether she was good enough at Whitney Young.  With every screw up she managed to avoid, her doubts like birds flew away. In 1981, Fraser Robinson drove Michelle to Princeton College, disapproving Michelle’s college counselor that she was not a Princeton material. At Princeton, she spent her time with the black students for relief and support as the population was more white and male.

It was hard being a black student but the minority and underprivileged students always rose up to the challenge. 

As a young parent, the most interesting part of the first part and probably the whole book to me was the fact that Fraser and Mariana Robinson talked to their children about everything; sex, drugs, life choices, race and politics. When need be, they fought for their children vehemently like when Craig got unfairly arrested by an African – American police officer. The parents also ensured that their children got to meet their extended family.

Becoming Us and More

After graduating from college, Michelle started working at Sidley and Austin, a law firm where she mentored Barak Obama.  Her career as a young lawyer was steering in the right trajectory, in a few years’ time, she saw herself as Partner. Fraser’s health deteriorated but he was adamant to seek professional help and kept working. Eventually, he succumbed to a heart attack and that devastated the Robison’s. I also felt sad, because he was my favorite character in the book and that is when Michelle needed him most, she was about to get married to Obama who had completely smitten her. 

Michelle visited Kogelo, in Kenya – Obama’s home with the help of Auma, Obama’s sister.  He also made sure she met his Toot, mother and sister who lived in Hawaii.

Obama allowed Michelle to live up to her dreams while he lived his spontaneous life with a full diary. His was a desire to serve the community. His principles revolved around giving his society hope and audacity. Obama is described as hopeful and very optimistic.

Obama’s interest in politics was stirred with his involvement with the public as a part time lecturer, an editor of the Harvard Review alongside volunteering in a number of other NGO’s. Even though Michelle did not want him to be politically active, she supported him through his quest to become the senator of Illinois. Then came the quench to have children which was emotionally draining. Michelle suffered  a miscarriage, a VHIF and the truancy of Barack due to his political job did not help matters even though he tried to be home as much as he could.

Eventually, Obama ran for the highest office in America. It came with its own share of challenges as the first black POTUS and FLOTUS – so much was expected of them. They knew they had to be better, smarter and stronger than ever.

The Obama’s  tenure was marked by better health care, protective fire arms policies, and inclusion of all Americans to the national cake, the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden, more attention for the American Army Officers, a better economy, creation of more jobs, child care acts and the campaign for healthier children. They also faced lots of criticism but they handled every situation with grit and grace.

Reading the 426 pages of this book was emotionally, intellectually and socially uplifting for me.

Strengths

  • Becoming sends a strong message to all parents that we need to train our children to be adults as soon as possible. We shouldn’t meddle in their decision making, ours is to advice. When Craig wanted to go on a date with a girl at her parents’ house because they were not around, Mariana left it for him to make a decision he would be comfortable with.
  • Strong women do not just come by. It takes the support of the family. The constant love, affection and support Michelle was accorded with from her family especially from her father and brother gave birth to a bold, outspoken woman who pursued every dream ruthlessly.
  • I heard Michelle’s voice  as I read the book. I could visualize scenes during campaigns, commencement speech, planting of the garden etc.
  • Michelle helped us to understand who the person Obama is! A man who believed that he would use savings from a book he had not even written to campaign. A man who refused to be an absentee father like his own. A man who gave family all he could. A man who did not need a godfather to become a POTUS!
  • I have watched Scandal and somehow the picture of what transpires during an election in USA is well depicted by Shonda Rhyme. However, the intensity of every campaign especially in states like Iowa was will illustrated in the book. Also, statements like, ‘Angry black woman; bustle in the book and made me understood that politics is really rough! A simple facial expression could be misinterpreted by the ever angry rumor peddlers.

 Weaknesses

  • Chapter 7 was hurriedly done. I felt like Michelle wanted to just complete that part!
  • Fraser Robinson ought to have been given more appreciation than he got. Seemed like his death was it. 

Becoming made me believe in my capabilities even more. Michelle was just a girl from the South. A girl who constantly had to assure herself that she was enough .my favorite quote from this book is; there is power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there is grace in being willing to know and hear others. This is how we become.

It sums it all.

I am grateful to all those who are in their paths to Becoming!

Read Also: Chronicle of a Death Foretold