Race, politics and the Obamas figure in former White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s new memoir - GulfToday

Race, politics and the Obamas figure in former White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s new memoir

FINDING-VOICE

Though large sections are dedicated to her White House years, there’s much more to Valerie Jarrett’s story. TNS/Twitter

Lolly Bowean

In her free moments between working with law students at the University of Chicago, serving on corporate boards and making speaking appearances, Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett interviewed her mother, daughter and other close relatives about her childhood memories and pivotal moments in her life and career.

It was through those conversations and reflections that Jarrett was able to focus in on what lessons from her past led her to success and happiness, she said.

“I was in information-gathering mode to see what stories would resonate broadly. I spent a lot of time by myself,” she said. “It would be too much to do an exhaustive history. I wanted to tell stories I thought had broader meaning and were most profound to me.”

More than two years after she left the White House and ended her two terms as former President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, Jarrett’s memoir, “Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward,” is out from Viking. Rather than a tell-all that spills salacious secrets, the book is more of a guide that Jarrett hopes will connect with a younger generation.

Jarrett’s book comes about four months after Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir “Becoming,” for which the former first lady toured like a rock star, selling out large stadiums across the country. “Becoming” has sold more than 10 million copies and is slated to become the highest-selling memoir in recent history, publishers have said.

While many of Jarrett’s stories overlap with ones told by Michelle Obama — whom Jarrett mentored as a young lawyer — Jarrett’s book rollout is more subdued.

And though large sections are dedicated to her White House years, there’s much more to Jarrett’s story. She writes about her early childhood in Iran and her transition to Chicago’s South Side, about her first encounter with racism and often being too shy to defend herself, about her troubled marriage and her later struggles as a single working mother. Throughout, she laces the anecdotes with reflections of what she wishes she knew at the time.

“I thought that one of the things I could do to be helpful to other women who are struggling in their careers and personal lives is to tell my story,” she told the Tribune in a recent interview. “I wanted the book to be not just enjoyable to read, but helpful.

“In my case, being a young, single mom, there were so many times I thought if I was just smarter, or more efficient or slept fewer hours, this wouldn’t be so hard,” she said. “But the truth is, it’s just hard.”

I couldn’t tell my story without addressing the issue of race. I’m concerned about the resurgence of white supremacists that feel comfortable spewing hate. … We have to be honest and say this is still an issue we grapple with.

“I couldn’t tell my story without addressing the issue of race,” she adds. “I’m concerned about the resurgence of white supremacists that feel comfortable spewing hate. … We have to be honest and say this is still an issue we grapple with.”

Jarrett’s book also covers the oft-told story of her meeting and forging a close relationship with the Obamas.

Jarrett writes about how she was working at a prestigious Chicago law firm but was unfulfilled and unhappy. Against the advice of her relatives, she went to work for the city in Mayor Harold Washington’s administration.

It was at City Hall that she learned how to serve the public and navigate a politically charged environment. It was also at City Hall that she was mentored by a woman who pushed her to ask for a promotion and a raise. In that role, she learned the importance of work and family balance, how women have to pull each other up and also ask for what they need.

It was also at City Hall that she interviewed and offered a job to a young Michelle Robinson, who said she wanted Jarrett to meet her fiancé before agreeing to take the position.

Jarrett would later move back to a private sector before she was catapulted to national prominence as Barack Obama’s fundraiser and close adviser.

Throughout the book, Jarrett sprinkles in stories about figures who were a part of the Obama close circle. Of her time in the White House, Jarrett focuses on majestic moments that brought her face to face with world leaders and icons like Elie Wiesel and the Dalai Lama. She writes at length about the push for health care reform, fair pay for women and gay marriage.

She called the election of Donald Trump “soul crushing,” and writes in detail what it was like to be one of the last people to leave the White House on Obama’s last day in office.

“I thought, if I were honest, people could see me as a real person … it would make the story more meaningful,” she said.

Tribune News Service