Michelle: a Biography by Liza Mundy – review

From The Telegraph:

Michelle_Obama_1240757c No doubt we will be reading reams about the new First Lady of the United States (who incidentally turns 45 today), but Liza Mundy’s biography is an exceptionally good place to start. Mundy, a Washington Post journalist, had only one interview with Michelle Obama, in 2007, but she has talked to many of her friends and colleagues and has taken the trouble to set Obama’s life and career firmly in the context of the racial, social and political changes that have happened in America during her lifetime.

An early criticism of Barack Obama was that he was “not black enough” – brought up by his white mother and grandmother in Hawaii and Indonesia, he had never lived in a black neighbourhood and was not the descendant of slaves. But Michelle Obama is, as she says, “as black as it gets”, with slave ancestry from both parents. She grew up in the black South Side of Chicago (her brother Craig remembers the last white family moving out), where her father worked for the city water department, her mother was a housewife, and they lived in a two-room apartment. Given that Craig grew to 6ft 6in and Michelle to 5ft 11in, it must have been quite a squash. Their father developed multiple sclerosis in his thirties but carried on working, though he had to walk with two sticks. He died, after a kidney operation, in 1991.

Both children were high-fliers, promoted through the best schools, and encouraged to aim for Ivy League universities. Craig was so academically and athletically gifted that he was offered scholarships to several universities, and chose Princeton. Michelle believes she got in on his coat tails – he was already a Princeton basketball star by the time she arrived. The university was still more than 90 per cent white and she wrote a sociology thesis on her experience as a black student – “I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I don’t really belong.” She learned later that her first roommate’s mother had complained to the university authorities about her daughter having to share with a black.

More here.