Narrator Robin Miles has a heroic task at hand as she performs The Warmth of Other Suns by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson. Part oral history, part scholarly analysis, and part the author’s own family experience, the book tells in unsparing, vivid detail why African-Americans migrated in huge numbers from the southern states to points north and west during the years 1915 to 1970. Recalling what can only be labeled a shameful period in American history, The Warmth of Other Suns chronicles the racist bondage under which African-Americans lived, years after being legally emancipated.
Miles lets us hear the anger, exasperation, fear, and extraordinary nobility of three individuals whose stories serve as the narrative of the book. Ida May Gladney, George Starling, and Dr. Robert Foster were not players on the national Civil Rights scene, but their stories typify the lives of millions of African-Americans who found themselves virtually, if not literally, imprisoned in the American South. Terror is palpable as Miles recounts how young Mrs. Gladney defiantly challenged a night-time lynch mob at her family’s door. George Starling’s anger after 50 years is clipped, short, and intense as Miles relates the ludicrous travel protocols African-Americans had to abide by when simply trying to enjoy their right to travel freely. Finally, it is Dr. Robert Foster’s soul-crushing drive across the Southwest, attempting to flee the encumbrances of Southern racism and merely wanting a place to sleep after a long day’s drive, where Miles triumphs in capturing the staggering weight that racism layered on perpetrators and victims alike. She depicts Dr. Foster’s exhausted, emotional breakdown with compassion and, it seems, the weariness of all fellow travelers on this particular road.
Wilkerson offers her family’s personal experiences as illustrations of the hold that the South maintained on so many people, no matter how ill-treated they were. Miles captures the joyous midnight revelries of Wilkerson’s grandmother and her neighbors, who would gather on warm Georgia summer nights to await the once-a-season blooming of the grandmother’s highly-prized cereus flowers.
Miles also leads listeners through the roughest of Wilkerson’s scenes, allowing all to grasp the absolute horror that could develop during a simple errand, a normal work day, or a hoped-for family outing. She crisply and coolly recounts the laws written and unwritten that kept African-Americans bound to servitude in the South. It is American history unvarnished, needing to be told, heard, and understood. The depth and breadth of Wilkerson’s research and her ability to tell stories, while also relating facts and figures, makes The Warmth of Other Suns a compelling experience. Miles lends a talented voice to Wilkerson’s words, imbuing Gladney, Starling, Foster, and many others described in the book with the respect and dignity they have long deserved. Carole Chouinard
National Book Critics Circle Award, Nonfiction, 2011
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to previously untapped data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois state senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue medicine, becoming the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful career that allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures her subjects’ first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed their new cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
Bonus: In partnership with Audible and Playtone, the television and film producer behind the award-winning series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, this audiobook includes an original introduction, written and read by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns. For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.
©2010 Isabel Wilkerson (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
“A landmark piece of nonfiction . . . sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience….A mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann’s study of the Great Migration’s early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas’s great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston….[Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration… Wilkerson combines impressive research…with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.” (John Stauffer, Wall Street Journal)
"The Warmth of Other Suns is epic in its reach and in its structure. Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories, Wilkerson’s book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports — in the nation and the world." (Lynell George, Los Angeles Times)
I love the way the author chose to present the story of the great migration as first a narrative and then more specifically as the story of three individual experiences. I learned a lot and have a greater appreciation for movement of African Americans within their borders.
The recording could only be delivered any better if this were a replay of the numerous interviews with the main "characters". Well done!
The book provides a complete analysis of the migration of African-Americans from the south. Brilliantly told through the lives of people that were part of the movement. Once you start it you will not be able to put it down.
When I saw this book, I hesitated to get it. After all, I think I am well versed in real American history and of the 200 or so books I have read or listened to, including all the prize winners of the last three decades, I had never heard of this subject matter. I wondered if perhaps it were really a political book disguised as history. There are so many of those floating around now. I decided to give it a go knowing I could return it if dissatisfied. I was astounded, not only by the riveting story lines and the intensity and passion in which it is written, but also by the fact that I had never heard of this American phenomenon in my 60 years of existence. This should be standard history taught to secondary and high school students, not to mention on the University level. Not once through school and University days and in reading every history book I could lay my hands on was this amazing tale ever mentioned. I am very glad I took a chance on this book and I think it a must read for anyone who has an interest in the real way the America we know today came to be.
A hard-rending history beautifully told. We can all know so much more about our nation because of this book. Ms. Wilkerson deserves the highest praise and our sincere gratitude. Make time for this book in your life.
Learned so much from this book from both a historical and personal perspective. A nonfiction book beautifully written as a novel, and while there are dates, times, stats presented, the book doesn't drown in it. Instead, told through the lives of three brave Americans.
Wilkerson magnificently weaves the story of three unrelated migrates seamlessly, while accented the events of their lives with interesting and important events that occurred during the time period. This books is s must read for every Amweican, but especially children of migrants. it will make you see you parents in a different light! Robin Miles gives a truly gifted performance.
This look into what many have overlooked is a truly eye opening experience. I have heard of and researched the migration of African Americans from the south, however Isabel Wilkerson has left no stone unturned. Her in depth view into the lives of these individuals and many side notes paints a picture that will stand as an accurate historical document from now until time. Great job!
Wilkerson has taken on the massive task of diligently and honestly recording an often overlooked era of American History. What she has accomplished with this book is highly commendable and I am a better, wiser person for having listened to it. I did often find myself quite bored listening to the factual segments of the book, which sounded at times like someone reading a Wikipedia article. But in the end, there was a tremendous payoff in the new, deeper understanding I have gained about our country's past.
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