Michelle Obama shares her story in ‘Be­com­ing’

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Books - BY KRISSAH THOMP­SON

As Michelle Obama’s highly an­tic­i­pated mem­oir “Be­com­ing” ar­rives, it’s clear that the for­mer first lady is oc­cu­py­ing a space in the cul­ture be­yond pol­i­tics. With an arena book tour fea­tur­ing A-list spe­cial guests, she seems to ex­ist in the mid­dle ground be­tween two icons she calls friends, Oprah Win­frey and Bey­oncé Knowles-Carter. Her ap­proach is short of Win­frey’s full-on con­fes­sional style but goes fur­ther than the guarded in­ti­macy of Knowles-Carter’s art and per­for­mances.

Her book walks a sim­i­lar line. It’s re­veal­ing, right down to the glossy cover photo in a ca­sual white top - one shoul­der ex­posed, eyes bright. (Spoiler: It’s not the kind of shirt a soon-to-be po­lit­i­cal can­di­date wears.) But Obama, who was fa­mously guarded as first lady, still val­ues her pri­vacy even as she of­fers frank opin­ions about Don­ald Trump and dis­closes past fer­til­ity strug­gles.

“I don’t think any­body will be nec­es­sar­ily pre­pared to read a mem­oir like this - es­pe­cially com­ing from a first lady,” said Shonda Rhimes, the tele­vi­sion pro­ducer, who read an ad­vance copy of Obama’s book.

The first-lady mem­oir is a rite of pas­sage, but Obama’s is dif­fer­ent by virtue of her very iden­tity. “Be­com­ing” takes her his­toric sta­tus as the first black woman to serve as first lady and melds it deftly into the Amer­i­can nar­ra­tive. She writes of the com­mon as­pects of her story and - as the only White House res­i­dent to count an en­slaved great­great-grand­fa­ther as an an­ces­tor - of its sin­gu­lar sweep.

In the 426-page book, Obama lays out her com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with the po­lit­i­cal world that made her fa­mous. But her mem­oir is not a Wash­ing­ton read full of gos­sip and po­lit­i­cal score-set­tling though she does lay bare her deep, quak­ing dis­dain for Trump, who she be­lieves put her fam­ily’s safety at risk with his vehement pro­mo­tion of the false birther con­spir­acy the­ory.

“The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spir­ited, of course, its un­der­ly­ing big­otry and xeno­pho­bia hardly con­cealed. But it was also dan­ger­ous, de­lib­er­ately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks,” she writes. “What if some­one with an un­sta­ble mind loaded a gun and drove to Wash­ing­ton? What if that per­son went look­ing for our girls? Don­ald Trump, with his loud and reck­less in­nu­en­dos, was putting my fam­ily’s safety at risk. And for this I’d never for­give him.”

It is the most di­rect and per­sonal lan­guage she’s used about Trump.

The Wash­ing­ton Post ob­tained an early copy of Obama’s book, which will be re­leased Tues­day. Even those who have fol­lowed Obama’s life closely in the decade and a half since her hus­band was a rel­a­tively un­known Illi­nois politi­cian will come away with fresh un­der­stand­ing of how she sees the world and the peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­ences that shaped her.

She di­vides the mem­oir into three parts: Be­com­ing Me, Be­com­ing Us, Be­com­ing More. The first sec­tion is a deep, of­ten so­ci­o­log­i­cal ex­plo­ration of Chicago and the peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions there. Its tex­tured dis­cus­sion of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, race and class are re­minders that Obama ma­jored in so­ci­ol­ogy and mi­nored in African-Amer­i­can stud­ies at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity.

The sec­ond sec­tion, Be­com­ing Us, is a romp through her ro­mance with Barack Obama, start­ing a fam­ily with him and her search for work that she loved. It be­gins with words that have never be­fore been writ­ten by a first lady about her man: “As soon as I al­lowed my­self to feel any­thing for Barack, the feel­ings came rush­ing - a top­pling blast of lust, grat­i­tude, ful­fill­ment, won­der.”

The third sec­tion, Be­com­ing More, tra­verses their life as pub­lic fig­ures. It con­tains her own view of her legacy and ac­com­plish­ments as first lady.

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