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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)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.

16 comments:

  1. Hmmm, not sure this one is for me. I've been in a bit of a slump for over a week and have found that the first few pages or the tone of the narrator (for audios) can make it or break it for me when I'm feeling like that.

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    1. Diane, I didn't mind the reader/narrator, but the book is quite long and I probably would have enjoyed it better if I read it in print (and a few chapters at a time, rather than all at once). It's quite timely and an important read. I wish it had been edited down a bit for the repetitious passages.

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  2. Seems very timely and a fascinating listen. Thank you for the review.

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    1. Mystica, it was very enlightening and, as you said, very timely. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Hmmm. Initially, I liked the sound of this one, but I can see that for this kind of work, a print version might be better. I don't think I could deal with 23 hours of listening, but I am still interested in the subject matter.

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    1. Jenclair, I think it would be good to read in bits & pieces (in print). I think the only time I would enjoy an audiobook of this length would be if it were a Stephen King novel. :)

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  4. I appreciate your review, Les. I listened to the first hour or so before deciding a read/listen combo might be a better approach for me. Not sure when I'll get to it now, but will give it another go.

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    1. JoAnn, the first few chapters/tracks are full of so much history and background about the three individuals, I think it would have been much better to have read those in the print edition. I like the idea of a read/listen combo and now wonder if the print copy has any photographs. I may look for the book at my library (curbside pickup, of course).

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  5. I tried to read the printed version of the book around a year ago, but couldn't get through it. I found it so depressing that I gave up, which was cowardly. I combined it with a review of another book about that era:
    https://maefood.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-great-migration-two-books.html

    be well... mae

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    1. Mae, it's a challenging read and I know several bloggers have raved about it. I wish I had felt the same... I will take a look at your post. Thanks for providing the link!

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  6. I thought this book was fascinating when I read it some time ago. For me, it filled in gaps I had in the history of America. I had never heard this story.

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    1. Deb, I thought it was very informative about a part of history I'd never heard about either. I'm just sorry I didn't read the print edition.

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  7. Yeah I think I'll be able to keep track of it better in print. I hope to read this sometime. I often get the print versions of histories where I know I'll have to add sticky notes. Light fiction is usually easier for me to follow on audio.

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    1. Susan, it would have been nice to be able to mark certain passages with sticky notes. I'm also curious to see if the book has any photographs. I may get it from the library so I can flip through and revisit some of the writing.

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  8. This does sound very interesting but I know I myself and would not enjoy listening to this. While I finally have started to enjoy audiobooks I feel like it's certain types of reads like thrillers or lighter dramas that I really enjoy on audio.

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    1. Iliana, I love listening to thrillers or any sort of suspenseful book (Justin Cronin's The Passage comes to mind) on audio. But I also enjoy general fiction (Eleanor Oliphant and Nothing to See Here), so I guess a lot of it just depends on the narrator. If you need recommendations, click on the link (Favorite Audiobooks) in my sidebar. Glad you're enjoying audios!

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