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 can't imagine why a previous reviewer regards this book as poorly written. I beg to differ; it's a masterful work of non-fiction which has been recognized as such by important critics and award committees. If the objection is, I've heard all this before, consider that Isabel Wilkerson isn't necessarily addressing scholars. This book brings a critical component of American history to those of us who have heard little, if anything, about the Great Migration, neglected as it has been in public education. The book is eminently readable, thanks to the novelistic way her three principal characters are brought to life. Their individual stories illustrate the complex motivations, means and outcomes of Great Migration participants. Fascinating, compelling, thought-provoking, and expertly narrated--I can't recommend it highly enough.
We took this audio book along with us on our vacation that entailed being in the car for 36 hours. My husband had a particular interest in the subject matter since his parents met after making the African-American migration from Alabama to Ohio in the early 1940's. We were drawn into the stories of the main characters as soon as they appeared on the page. We marveled at the amount and quality of the difficult research that must have gone into the making of the book. Our vacation took us to the rocky mountains and the glorious fall foliage but we couldn't wait to get back in the car so we could listen to more. Our hope is that Ms.Wilkerson doesn't stop here with her documentation of other little know american histories. Also note; Robin Miles was most enjoyable to listen to and had a particular knack for identifying each character with her interpretation of their spoken word. Will listen to again!
This book, which richly deserves National Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, is a beautifully written history. The author, Isabel Wilkerson, does not take the statistically-intense route in explaining one of the most important (yet often forgotten) history events in 20th century US history. Rather, she follows three families in their migration from Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana/Georgia, to northern homes in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles. Along the way, the reader gets a full biography of 6 "ordinary" people, their extended families, their life in the south, the transition to the north, living in the north, and the ends of their lives. Wilkerson does a good job interspersing in this fascinating set of tales the statistical and other evidence about the migration in general. While showing the common and distinct elements experience by these individuals and families. The books nicely toggles back & forth between the 3 families, without getting irritating or confusing. The narration is also excellent.
I will never think of blacks, the South, or race relations between whites and blacks in the same way. Wilkerson has done an outstanding job of bringing to life what it was like for blacks living in the South and what motivated millions of blacks to leave the South for the North, Northeast, and West over a period of decades starting around the time of WWI.
Her story closely follows three individuals, along with short stories of other people and her family, mixed in with a lot of sociological research. Although not a page turner, I was never bored and I learned so much about American History that I never knew well or understood at all. At its heart, this is a story about the impact of 400 years of slavery, abuse, oppression, and discrimination on a group of people. Wilkerson goes way beyond the sorrow, however, to focus on the strength, determination, and grit it took for blacks to survive and to make it out of the South. She is an excellent writer and she never sensationalizes the story nor does she lecture or sermonize.
This is the first time I have listened to Robin Miles narrate a story. She did a top notch job. Her Southern accents for men and women seemed spot on.
I enjoy non fiction almost exclusively and especially love the history of Rome, the conquest of the Americas, and early American history from the founding of the earliest colonial settlements to the Antebellum rise of the United States.
Absolutely amazing! Heartfelt, emotional, gripping.... This is a wonderful story that was a pleasure to listen to. The narrator, Robin Miles, does a great job transporting the listener and attaching them to the people and places in this book. I have read in other reviews negative comments on the pacing and repetition of phrases. It is absolutely true that the writer will use and reuse a small description say, of someone. I felt that really helped me place everything and jog my memory as to the situation at hand. It does not come off as lazy or unedited but, more conversational. There are a lot of people in these stories with the same names and those recycled descriptions help keep everything straight and helps gain a sense of the characters.
This is an emotional ride, be forewarned. At times I openly laughed, giggled, smiled proudly, cheered, and also got so angry, disappointed, saddened, fist clenchingly pissed off! Needless to say, it is a necessary and enjoyable listen.
The realization of just how bleak the lives of post slavery black people were, especially in the south, and also the realization of just how recently this changed.
The story followed the lives of several of the black people who migrated from the south in the early 20th century. The story seemed a little slow and plodding. Sometimes it was difficult to maintain interest. The story could/should have been told in perhaps 1/2 to 2/3 as much time.
This is my first Robin Miles reading
No, it was a story that I listened to for education, not entertainment.
I think that this is a worthwhile read for white people such as myself as well as Black people. It is about a shared heritage that none of us can be proud of. For a conscientious white person, it is horrifying to see just how cruel other white people were in the Jim Crow south. I am not sure how a black person might react, but I can imagine a mixture of emotions, some directed at white people for their cruelty, and some directed at themselves and other black people for their helplessness in the face of this cruelty.
I am 62 years old, and it is a bit humbling to realize that many of the abuses that are described were in full force during my lifetime, and indeed that some of this exists today.
I think that this book would be most valuable to young people of all races. This would help them to understand some of why the older generation acts and thinks the way it does.
My mom was one of the southern African Americans who made the trip to Boston all those years ago. She never talked about her trip and her reasons for leaving. I never asked. This books brings incredible insight into her story and ultimately my history. I would recommend it to all, but in particular those who wonder what struggles your parents who migrated from the south all those years ago may have been like.
One of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to.
In the Garden of Beasts. History lessons in the form of a novel really interest me. The reader gets to enjoy a book and an education.
This book was a great lesson in American history. Although it was mostly a sad part of US history it gave the reader some insight into the Black experience.
Informative and incredibly moving--I had to hold back tears on multiple occasions! One of the best nonfiction works I've ever read.
I was anxious to read (listen to) this book. The concept is wonderful and the prose is literary. The problem is the repetitiousness. Over and over. There was one paragraph where she paraphrased someone's reaction to a situation and then quoted the person. The repetition adds nothing and detracts considerably. If I was reading this, I would skim through those sections, but by listening, you can't do this. The best way to listen to this book is to do so with long periods in between. That way, the repetition would be nice reminders rather than something that makes you begin talking back to the narration.
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