July 14, 2020
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Nonfiction - History
2011 Brilliance Audio
Read by Robin Miles
Finished on July 6, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)
From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new 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 historical 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 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 a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their 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 these 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, and riveting 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.
I've had my eye on The Warmth of Other Suns for several years and finally decided to download the audiobook from Libro.fm. I was well aware that the print edition is very long, but I wasn't quite prepared to spend an entire month listening to this nonfiction work. It was just under 23 hours of listening time. Eek!
Wilkerson's research is extensive and I liked learning about the lives of the three main individuals represented in the book, but it took me quite a while to get used to the rhythm of the narrative. Each of three people (and their families) migrate to different areas of the country, experiencing unique and similar instances of racial injustice and acceptance. These biographies are interwoven during each time period and there were times when I wasn't sure if the narrative was focusing on George or Robert's life.
I wish I could say that I loved this book, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I read the print copy, but that was not my experience. I appreciate the lessons learned about this time in our country's history, but I found the writing repetitive and was easily distracted as I listened. I am obviously in the minority, if one is to look at all the 5-star ratings on Goodreads. Robin Miles does a fine job with the audiobook narration, but my recommendation is to read the print edition.