Monday, June 13, 2011

Book #72: The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great MigrationTitle: The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Title: Isabel Wilkerson

Here's another book I picked up based on a recommendation from Amazon, and the third book in a row that I read without knowing much about it beforehand. Based on the subtitle "The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" I had guessed that the story would be about immigrants to America, or about people moving westward. I was surprised to find that the "Great Migration" about which Wilkerson writes is a migration north (and sometimes west) of blacks from the South, beginning in the first years after the turn of the twentieth century and continuing through the 1960s.

When I thought about it, I realized that the African American kids I grew up with in Connecticut were the grandchildren of this great migration. It was an exodus that I never realized had existed. Sure, I knew that most African Americans living in the north had relatives "Down South" but I didn't know that the lines of migration were formalized enough that there was, say, a Monroe, LA club in Los Angeles.

Wilkerson does a fantastic job bringing the story to life by following the Great Migration through the lives of three families. First Ida Mae Gladney and her husband and children moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1937 where she worked as a janitor, a factory worker and a nurse's aide until she retired. In 1945, George Starling and his wife moved from Florida to Harlem, although he continued traveling back to Florida several times a month with his job as a railroad porter. Finally, Robert Foster left Louisiana for Los Angeles in 1953, where he established himself as a successful surgeon. It was these stories that made the book come alive. I can imagine the exhaustive hours of interviewing that went into getting Ida Mae, George and Robert to tell their tales, especially since all three were elderly and quite infirm by the time they met Wilkerson. She did a magnificent job bringing her three main character, and indeed the Great Migration itself, to life. It's a book I won't quickly forget.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of pictures in the Kindle edition. When I opened up the Amazon page to verify dates, it has a whole slew of pictures of the three principal characters, as well as photos of Wilkerson's parents (themselves part of the Great Migration). If I'd known I was going to miss out on the photos, I think I would have bought the hardback version of the book.

This was an interesting and illuminating read, but as primarily a fiction reader, digging into a three dense nonfiction works in a row was a little heavy for me. I feel like I need to read another adoption memoir or a YA novel to cleanse my palate.

1 comment:

France said...

An immigrant myself, I wanted to know about this new country I now call home. This book opened my eyes and my heart to the struggles of the people who lived here before. I cried with them and celebrated with them. So much has been achieved but we have so much more to learn. An amazing book!