Book Review

Finding My Voice: Obama adviser’s life at the West Wing


Finding My Voice by Valerie Jarrett. March 9, 2020. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Valerie Jarrett is a longtime friend of the Obamas, and former adviser to the 44th President of the United States of America Barack Obama.

Her book Finding My Voice is one of the few reads that humanise the office of the most powerful leader in the world, while offering an insider’s view of the historical happenings that we saw play out in the media, and gallery of public opinion.

The once starry eyed twenty-something-year-old with a plan and the drive to achieve it, now a divorced single mother of one, caffeinated, packed with grit and perseverance, morphs into a powerhouse, like a beautiful butterfly through the 305 pages.

From the “never cry at work” cardinal rule set in the preface before she ever knew she’d be sitting in the West Wing, to the last three months of the Obama administration where she writes “the president’s assistant Ferial Govashiri, observed to me, “Anywhere else, when you leave a job, you can go back and visit. When we leave this one, it disappears.”

The book is divided into three sections — her birth and childhood in Iran, her young adult life, college years, family life, and professional years.

Jarrett explores the challenges and privileges that come with her different jobs while raising an opinionated child.

Among the ones that touched her most were “notifying people when President Obama chose to award them with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour.”

Jarrett writes as though advising the next generations of African Americans while adding her story to the footnotes of American history.

second nature

The start of chapter 7 titled “My Best Hire Ever” referring to Michelle Robinson, later Mrs. Obama, goes on to say “The idea that black people need to work twice as hard and be twice as good has been repeated to us time and again. We’ve absorbed it into our bloodstream. It’s become second nature. But for a phrase that’s become so commonplace, we often leave out an important part: yes, work twice as hard, so that you can be twice as good, but you need to be lucky, too.”

She refers to the genesis of her ties with the Obamas without delving into the politics of race in depth.

Finding My Voice is a great example of a woman rising above the odds. With this past Sunday being the international Women’s day, it’s only right that this Friday’s book review focus on the contribution by one such woman made to humanity through her service to the highest office where “men with guns” overheard “our private conversations, exercising restraint by never commenting, just staring ahead. They were always there but tried to be inconspicuous.”