A page and a half into the preface of this book, I found my heart pounding, as if syncing up with an all-consuming life force. It consumed me, made me tear up, and I had to stop reading to type the previous sentence.
Every writer has an energy. Some write from a shallow pool, and I really don't care about those books. Others, not that many, write from an ocean — a place much bigger than their everyday self — and it's called Love. Becoming has an almost palpable pulse as strong as the ocean tide.
There is something for everyone through this pulse:
- If you are an inveterate skeptic, or an order devotee, or someone who has been torn apart by seemingly opposite obligations and doubts about being good enough, Michelle Obama speaks for you.
- If you're black or brown, you'll probably nod a lot with recognition.
- If you're white, same thing, even as you relate to unfairness you've never faced; Obama's openness, vulnerability, and warmth make her experience feel as if it is your own — no small trick.
- If you have ever felt in over your head, with more responsibility than you can handle, yet simultaneously in awe of the situation, your experience will both resonate with and be dwarfed by this story.
- If you come from a wonderful family, you'll mumble, "Yes, yes."
- If you are in a relationship with someone who is your opposite, you may find self- and other-acceptance through understanding.
- If you come from a dysfunctional family or if you travel through life solo, or if you are simply a human being, you may find in these pages a main line to all the love, self-approval, and nurturance you never had.
The narrative of this memoir flows flawlessly between personal story and a deep understanding of cultural history. And Obama never tries to make herself look good. Her self-criticism, humility, and appreciation of the people around her, as well as her authentic awe at her life are radiant and contagious. As is her love for children. All children. (And we are all children in some hidden place.)
The pulse of this story becomes, as the book progresses, a resounding drumbeat every bit as powerful as the one she often refers to driving her husband's trajectory, but my guess is that she would be surprised to hear this. This pounding is her heart. By the time she describes Hurricane Katrina, "when the drumbeat [to do more] truly got loud," (221), my whole chest was reverberating.
Michelle Obama shares herself and her family with such generosity and honesty that it creates a connection for everyone. In fact, I don't think I've ever read an author with more "open sockets" for readers to plug into. She is so relatable that it makes you love her and her remarkable parents and brother and husband … and maybe even yourself a little, too. So perhaps her real gift is the one offered by all great healers: to beckon and welcome our whole selves to awaken — to awaken to the becoming of who we really are.