For those of you who have read Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, you know that the former First Lady is highly intelligent, having graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. When she met Barack Obama, she was his boss at a law firm in Chicago.
Boss-lady is one way to describe her! Because she owns responsibility in a very pragmatic way and puts the onus on discharging one’s own duties. Born into a simple family (with a stay-at-home mom and a father employed in public works while battling multiple sclerosis), she was taught “you fall, you get up, you carry on,” by her father. Her incredibly focused and challenging life journey makes her writing style ‘optimistic without being naive’. And that’s a necessary attribute for a book on resilience.
If Becoming was autobiographical in nature, in The Light We Carry, Michelle is more in the self-help zone. Five things to love in the book would be:
1. The Light We Carry, has Michelle engaging in an honest dialogue with readers about very fundamental questions such as - How do we build enduring and honest relationships? How can we discover strength and community inside our differences? What tools do we use to address feelings of self-doubt or helplessness? For a generation just emerging from a pandemic, these questions are vital in nature.
2. Thankfully, the anecdotes in the book are fresh. She uses them to reiterate that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. And yes, it is difficult for the reader to forget that they're absorbing the book because of who she is, as much as what she’s saying.
3. Of course, she goes back to similes from her own life quite often, which is perfectly fair considering the groundedness she is said to have bought to the White House. For example, she acknowledges knitting in a very novel way- “Shaken by the enormity of everything that was happening, I needed my hands to introduce me to what was good, simple, and accomplishable.” Think about this practice of mastering something simple deeply.
4. One thing you have to love is her advice on assembling a “kitchen table” of trusted friends and mentors. Now, who is the person in your life who will tell you what you don't want to hear?
5. Michelle is a straight shooter. She honours the people she has worked with throughout her life with a sense of gratitude. Thus, she spares the reader an ‘us versus them’ patronising approach towards the multitude that looks up to her. She does not talk down!
I closed the book with a strong sense of how abused the word ‘freedom’ is in our world! And what the young are making of it; especially if it means the freedom to self-harm or making unhealthy choices. And given that these questions are being asked in Michelle’s voice, the audiobook is great for those who prefer that too!
Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist and bestselling biographer. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ On Twitter @OfficialReetaRG.