The title of Huma Abedin’s forthcoming memoir, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, is apt. Abedin’s upbringing was both cosmopolitan—she was raised in Saudi Arabia by Indian and Pakistani academics—and sheltered: her former husband, the disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, was, she writes, “the only man I had ever loved.” Her book is both self-aware—about the searing collapse of her marriage after Weiner was caught in serial sexting scandals—and naïve. (She claims that as late as 2011 she was unaware of the term “sex addiction.”)
For nearly 25 years—from the White House to the Senate, to the State Department and two presidential campaigns—Abedin’s sun has risen and set in her work as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s closest aide. But this book is not the place to find dish on perhaps the most powerful and polarizing woman in the modern world. Abedin’s first impression of Clinton was that she is prettier and more delicate than she seems on TV, and if the former First Lady has any flaw in these pages, it’s that she just cares too much.
Nevertheless, Both/And offers tantalizing glimpses into the tight world of aides and advisers known as “Hillaryland,” if only because Abedin was so often the only other person besides Clinton herself in the rooms where the story happened. Her first trip to the White House family quarters came on the very day that Bill Clinton admitted to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and Abedin confesses to being so awed that she had trouble breathing normally.
There are discreet flashes of Hillary’s asperity—early in their relationship, Clinton is annoyed when Abedin interrupts her at a small fundraising dinner to ask if she’d like to fill her own buffet plate—quickly followed by apologies and Abedin’s unself-conscious inner thoughts: “I would walk to the ends of the earth if you asked!”
There are tidbits of dirt: an unnamed senator invites Abedin for after-dinner coffee, then pushes his tongue into her mouth. Mild gossip: an unnamed “prominent filmmaker” sends the advice that candidate Hillary should stop trying to be likable and just be likable. Tales from the trenches: a hungry Barack Obama cadges a bag of mixed nuts from Clinton’s purse behind her back when they’re traveling together in their Senate days.
It’s something of a puzzle why Abedin would choose to publicly revisit what was surely an agonizing time in her life, and indeed the most compelling passages of this 544-page book are those in which she recounts the already public implosion of her marriage to Weiner, the brash and brainy Jewish politician from New York, who was not only her husband and the father of their son, but the first real boyfriend of this Muslim woman.
Disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner was, Abedin writes, “the only man I had ever loved.”
Despite Abedin’s unvarnished account of her journey of shock, rage, denial, and humiliation after the exposure of Weiner’s online infidelities—the first surfaced when she was newly pregnant with their only child—she still thanks him in her acknowledgments for “giving me an experience where I felt like I was the most special person in any room,” a “moment of total bliss so fleeting, it was all the more precious.”
Abedin’s own assessment of her aim in writing the book is to tell “the tale of one person’s walk alongside history.” Perhaps she hopes that by grappling openly with the Weiner “thing”—while remaining so discreet about everyone else in current politics—she can cleanse and re-invent herself for some future public role. An ambassadorship? A foundation?
But if the book was a therapeutic exercise, one elephant in the room remains glaringly unexamined: a relationship with Hillary Clinton of such intertwined intensity that it can only be called co-dependent. Abedin portrays the bond here through a glass bubble.
It is no secret that many of Abedin’s colleagues in and out of Hillaryland believed that her protective-to-a-fault service to Clinton had become a severe liability—long before F.B.I. director James Comey announced in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign that he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail server because e-mails from Abedin had been found on Weiner’s laptop, which was being examined in a separate criminal investigation into Weiner’s digital relationship with an under-age girl.
Huma on Hillary: “I would walk to the ends of the earth if you asked!”
Indeed, Abedin herself recounts how some Clinton advisers wanted to jettison her in 2013, when Weiner’s second round of sexting became public, forcing him to abandon the New York mayoral campaign he’d hoped would rehabilitate him.
Yet Clinton herself kept Abedin on, saying she should not pay a professional price for her husband’s personal mistakes—with consequences the world now knows. Unraveling that decision will await the work of a less starry-eyed, more either/or storyteller.
Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, by Huma Abedin, will be published on November 2 by Scribner
Todd S. Purdum is the author of several books, most recently Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution