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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Good book that was especially interesting in the first half detailing the reasons for Blacks making the migration North and West. I was at times extremely embarrassed and angry at the behavior of Whites towards a people that are just trying to find a better life. It helped me understand the reasons why Black neighorhoods in the North evolved like the did----because African Americans were forced into these costly, crowded and often crime ridden areas. Great historical read and something than my pre-teens will be listenting to soon.
I don't know what compelled me to read "The Warmth of Other Suns." I've read other books on African Americans, like the Help and I have watched Roots, Color Purple and many other films on this topic. I've always thought that I knew the struggles for the blacks, but Isabel Wilkerson prize winning book really touched my heart because the stories are all real.
Instead of fictional characters that are there to entertain us, this book is about the migration for many African Americans fleeing the south and heading elsewhere in the country for an new start. The three biographies are really good. It gives you different views of different lives. There is a sharecropper's wife who leaves for Chicago. an agricultural worker who migrates to New York and a doctor who journeys to Los Angeles.
Each of their lives are unfiltered and their stories are not embellish for the publication. Their stories are just well told without a climax, just like many of our lives.
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I had no idea there was such a thing as a “Great Migration” where black people streamed out of the South to make better lives for themselves in the Northern States. I of course have heard of The Underground Railroad, but never this “overground” version of events which took place from about 1915 to 1970; I definitely learned a lot.
I constantly have my nose in a book (actually I should say my ears since most of them are audio!) and I always look forward to reading/listening every chance I get; except for this case. I never felt like getting back to it, it felt a burden every time. Yet when I would pick it up again, I was quickly recaptivated and always surprised that it had felt like a chore to get going once more. You’d think I’d be anxious to continue because it’s a very very interesting topic.
I suppose it’s because the subject matter is so amazingly depressing. Hearing about how people were treated so abominably is not easy to absorb, I think perhaps deep down I did not want to know more about it. It’s all so sad and distressing and depraved – but in the end I am glad I finished it. Sadness aside, I feel a little better educated.
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