By Mariyam Haider

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Title: Becoming

Author: Michelle Obama

Publishers: Crown Publishing Group, Viking Press

Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is powerful, personal and fulfilling. Her writing takes us with her on her journey, from growing up in Euclid Avenue on the South Side of Chicago to calling White House her home. In the course of this larger-than-life story, Michelle Obama offers her readers an insight into how a strong value-based system allowed her to take risks, commit mistakes and learn from them, address failure as a mentor, be honest to herself and develop authenticity as her crusading feature.

The book is divided into three segments: Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More. She sets the theme of the book in the preface by writing, “I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child — What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” The title of the book is thus the threadline of how each one of us is in a constant flux of evolution and rediscovery, embracing the unknown and resonating with the deeper voice that commands us to remain true to ourselves.

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By Jyoti Singh

As a child, I used to think that America and England were the same. Later I learnt that America was a bigger and more relaxed version of England. Then one day I found out that Americans were in fact prudes – like Indians! I had to unlearn that wearing undergarments in public and holding sacrosanct views on sex and marriage were not mutually exclusive. (As a child, marriage as a concept had seemed so Indian to me that I thought it was invented by Indians.) Soon I knew I was saying America/ England and thinking France. Referring to a continent (Africa) as a country is ignorance, but calling a country America, which is not one but two continents combined, is exactly the same. USA became America when it became great. Now Trump wants to make it great again. But then Michelle Obama came out and said that it’s the greatest. So maybe Trump should rethink his words.

I migrated to the USA four months ago. Trump had already happened, and Brexit was waiting to happen. Major cries on both fronts, even if reductionist, blamed the outsider for the disappointments of the Anglo-Saxon population. It’s a weird time to be migrating anywhere, not just the hottest migrant destinations. Nationalism is being hijacked by the oldest scam of “us” versus “them”, in a domino effect, across continents. It seems to me that the more the world interacts, the more we contract one another’s diseases, which, interestingly, has given rise to the prejudice paranoia. And then we have people who live off stoking it.

Diversity

by Chandra Ganguly

As I write this, Trump has won the Republican nomination. A man openly extolling hate and separation and retribution and segregation has won a wide circle of support. It is a matter of great shame and concern. The world watches. 

I am standing in line at the Chicago airport waiting for coffee. I have missed a connecting flight and I am tired and disheveled. The lady behind the counter tells me, “I love your nose ring.” “O, thanks,” I say to her and touch it self-consciously. She then asks me, “Are you Muslim?” I look up at her startled. Invasion happens in many ways, some gentle and some pre-announced and as a woman of color in America, it happens frequently enough that I should be used to it — but I am not. I nod my head vaguely, not a yes, not a no. I take my coffee and I walk away from her.

There it was again, the question all Americans who are not white are asked, the question about origins, that tells you that you are here but you are not from here. I pass a newsstand. Donald Trump looks at me from the cover of almost every magazine. “I am not an outsider,” I think as I pass him by.

Between two sips of coffee, Waseda University professor James M. Vardaman comes clean to me about his decades of addiction.

“I’m hooked on that rush,” he says. “The adrenaline high I get when selling a publishing idea.”

 Hailing from America, the acclaimed author has published five books already this year, adding to an extraordinary lineup of more than 40 Japanese and English titles. While Vardaman does not admit to having superpowers, he tells me that one secret to his productivity is remaining curious. (“I also take a lot of walks and I never forget lunch,” he adds.)

Geoff Mak on On Such a Full Sea in LARB

Little weight of reality … On Such a Full Sea author Chang-rae Lee.These are the times in which Chang-rae Lee’s fifth novel, On Such a Full Sea, arrives. Contrary to the historical and contemporary subjects of Lee’s previous novels, Full Sea tells the story of a futuristic, dystopian America after China has colonized the United States, making it his biggest departure to date. In this novel, Lee, whose fiction first appeared during the rise of ethnic studies in the 1990s, retains his usual political point of view; that is to say, it’s a primarily social one. There aren’t any cyborgs, and the presence of the internet figures minimally and passively. Lee’s imagination is much more concerned with questions about class and identity, which have a near deterministic power over the individuals in the cosmos of Full Sea.

A new book from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld seeks to explain why some groups succeed in America, and some fail. But when does cultural pride cross over into racism, asks Suketu Mehta in Time

I bankrupted myself while writing Maximum City: Suketu Mehta Recently, though, the language of racism in America has changed, though the plot remains the same. It’s not about skin color anymore–it’s about “cultural traits.” And it comes cloaked in a whole lot of social-science babble. The new racialists are too smart to denigrate particular cultures. Instead, they come at things the other way. They praise certain cultures, hold them up as exemplary. The implication–sometimes overt, sometimes only winked at–is that other cultures are inferior and this accounts for their inability to succeed.