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Jodi Kantor Discusses Her Book 'The Obamas: A Mission, A Marriage' (VIDEO + EXTRACT)

Jodi Kantor’s new book The Obamas: A Mission, A Marriage is the story of America’s first couple and how their relationship has struggled to adapt to the strains of life in the White House.

Sparking debate in Washington and abroad, the book is the most intimate portrait yet of the most powerful couple in the world and what makes them tick.

In this interview with HuffPost UK Culture, the New York Times White House Correspondent discusses Michelle Obama’s rejection of the book in a recent CBS interview, how the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US manifests itself under Barack Obama’s presidency and the story of the family and their bizarre holiday in Hawaii.

Below is an extract from The Obamas: A Mission, A Marriage that tells the story of Michelle Obama’s visit to an impoverished school in London and how it proved to be a pivotal point in helping her see the potential of her role for the first time.

The people Michelle were going to see that afternoon in London had no idea she was coming.

For two hours on that April day, students at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School had been waiting in an auditorium decorated with a modest arrangement of sunflowers, waiting to perform for a mystery guest.

All of the school’s students were female, few were white, and two-thirds spoke English as a second language. Twenty percent were the children of refugees or asylum seekers. They sat and waited in neat gray uniforms, some of the girls wearing headscarves, watching the film Mamma Mia! to pass the time.

When they realized who their guest was, they greeted her with a deafening wall of schoolgirl screams. The White House was quiet; events there tended to be muted affairs. Buckingham Palace and the G-20 events had been quiet, too. This was loud.

Earlier, at the opera, the first lady had sat still next to her peers. Now, as the girls danced and belted out ballads, she raised her hands

high to clap, whispered conspiratorially to the headmistress beside her, and high-fived students as they walked offstage.

When the performances were finished, she rose to speak.

“Although the circumstances of our lives may seem very distant, with me standing here as the first lady of the United States of America and you just getting through school, I want you to know that we have very much in common,” she said.

She was starting to well up, and her staff did as well. “Nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first African American first lady of the United States of America. There was nothing in my story that would land me here. I wasn’t raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of.”

Foreign trips were exhausting, a blur of flights, ceremonies, and costume changes, and with all the logistical details and schedules, the first lady and her aides had not fully realized the potential significance of the school visit. She looked at the girls looking at her and saw herself through their eyes, noticing how they hung on her every word.

“She knew they could see more possibilities for themselves by seeing themselves in her,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, her press secretary at the time. She saw the responsibility, the impact, the potential, of her role. Her time in the White House had been isolating, yet now across the Atlantic she felt so connected. Standing on the modest stage, aides said later, Michelle Obama’s new position began to make sense to her for the first time.

“History proves that it doesn’t matter whether you come from a council estate” — meaning a housing project — “or a country estate,”

she continued, her voice heartfelt. “We are counting on every single one of you to be the very best that you can be, because the world is big, and it’s full of challenges, and we need strong, smart, confident young women to stand up and take the reins.”

She finished her speech but did not leave. Instead she turned to the members of the student choir standing behind her. “I do hugs,” she told the girls, and one by one they approached. When she finished with them, she still wasn’t done. She moved to the front of the stage, dropped to her knees, and spread her arms. Secret Service agents were lunging forward protectively, but she was still reaching out for more girls to embrace.

The Obama: A Mission, A Marriage is out now on Penguin Books.