My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It has literally taken me two years to read this book. Not because it is heavy or particularly long – far from it. For the last two years it has been my secret Sunday morning guilty secret; spending just 15-20 minutes or so with Michelle, revelling in the beauty of her soul. Not every Sunday. Sometimes, like any good book, it gets put down and life makes you forget for a while. But most Sundays. It has been my joy.
You might guess from this that I am a fan of the former First Lady. You’d be right. Even from a distance, I could see the Obamas were very different as a presidential family. Young, charismatic, fun and eminently sensible and grounded in the real world. I felt I could trust them. I’ve yet to feel I was wrong.
In this book we get Michelle’s perspective on life in the White House and, of course, the story that leads up to how she got there. But on the whole she leaves the politics aside and concentrates on life outside the Oval Office. Her world is one of children, gardens, healthy eating and honourable causes. Most of all, it is one of family.
With taking her book in small steps over a period of time, I feel like I’ve taken that journey with her; grown up with her in a sense. From her small, humble roots living in a cramped apartment with her parents and brother, through to leaving the White House and learning to become some sort of ‘normal’ again with her three daughters increasingly growing up and moving on, I feel I understand something of this lived experience, perhaps because of our similar ages and stages in life as a parent.
I can’t empathise, of course. Michelle Obama is a successful, popular black American mother and wife of a former US President. Our lives couldn’t be much different. And yet, she makes you feel comfortable with her. It’s as though you’re just sitting down for a coffee with your neighbour you’ve known for years. It is for this reason I call her ‘Michelle’ and, if I were to ever meet her, I suspect I would do the same to her face (though politeness would make me try my best not to). Both Michelle and her husband have this casual, easy-going style which has endeared them to millions all over the world and has made calls for the former FLOTUS to run for presidency herself. Without giving away too much of a spoiler, she lays out quite clearly at the end of her book that this is just not going to happen, to everyone’s disappointment.
She doesn’t like politics, Michelle says. She’s seen too much and too closely the ugliness of that sphere, in particular with the man who came to power straight after the Obamas left the White House. Again, I’ve felt I’ve lived something of this ugly moment of history with the author. When I started reading, Donald Trump was firmly in place, doing or saying the most ridiculous things every, single, day, and looking forever untouchable. By the time I finished, he’d been ousted in the elections and had majestically toppled himself from grace in the last remaining days of his power. Like murderous Al Capone finally going down for tax evasion as his only weak spot, Trump’s fall might have been a token gesture when he was already on the way out, but it was a ridiculous pratfall and one which, I hope, will mean he’s never taken seriously again.
Michelle Obama’s gentleness, kindness and simple humility has helped keep me sane during those dark days of the Orange Julius. While I taught my History and Politics A level students, and deepening myself into the machinations of the American government now and over the last eighty years, despairing of a system no less corrupt than my own UK one and every bit as inefficient, hers was a voice of reason, a sense of ‘do your best at all times and this too shall pass’. And pass it did.
Whether or not political life now returns to ‘normal’ with Biden in place, or whether the Republican Hard Right will make a come back in another four years, waits to be seen. Michelle won’t be there in the running alas, but I hope she’ll still be there spreading her wisdom and general philosophy of care for one another and honouring the community in which you live. I’m going to miss her. I’m really wondering how I can invite her round for a nice cup of tea. I fancy my chances.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.