Sorry to leave you hanging there! It's been a busy week, what with the traveling, the movies, and the turkey avoidance* and all. But through it all, I've been thinking of The Warmth of Other Suns because it is just a tour de force. This story just had propulsion and velocity, and it dragged me along for the ride.
I guess I should start with the basic overview. This book of non-fiction was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist (and total hottie, at least according to Darius) named Isabel Wilkerson. The book created a big buzz when it came out, and I bought a copy right away. The book tells the mostly untold story of The Great Migration, which was a period of time from after WW1 all the way up through the 1970s when over 6 million African-Americans left the South for a better life in the North.
The book primarily follows the lives of 3 "migrants": George Starling, who leaves Florida for New York; Ida Mae Gladney, who leaves Mississippi for Chicago, and Dr. Bob Foster who leaves Louisiana for California. However, it's clear from the extensive footnotes that Wilkerson interviewed thousands of people for this book. Through the stories of these 3 individuals, she traces the major migratory paths from North to South and tells the story of the migration: what caused it, what ended it, what happened to those left behind, and the unexpected challenges of life in the North.
|In a great scene in the book, Ida Mae & the author drive past a cotton field and pick cotton!|
I couldn't help but read this book with a sense of awe, both for the craft of the storytelling and for the stories themselves. I just feel so grateful that these people shared their lives with the author, and that she created this book. It's amazing how strong people can be in the face of such adversity. Parts of the book were so moving that I doubt I will ever forget them. Here's Ida, describing what it was like to vote for the first time:
|Ida Mae (can you tell she's my favorite?)|
On Election Day, Ida Mae walked up to the fire station around the corner from her flat...to vote for the first time in her life...Ida Mae was not certain what to do. She had never touched an election ballot. She walked in, and a lady came over and directed her to where she should go. Ida Mae stepped inside a polling booth for the first time in her life and drew the curtain behind her...and tried to remember what the lady has told her about how to punch her choices for president of the United States and other political offices. It was the first time she would ever have a say in such things. "She showed me how to do it," Ida Mae said.
...She did not see herself as taking any kind of political stand. But in that simple gesture, she was defying the very heart of the Southern caste system, and doing something she could not dreamed of doing--in fact, had not allowed herself to even contemplate--all those years in Mississippi. (303-305).
Needless to say, reading those passages right after an election in which voting was purposefully made so difficult for so many people made me sad and angry. If this book shows anything, it's both how amazingly far we've come, and how far we still have to go.
This book is not only the amazing story of heroic Americans, but also an important correction of the historical record. For years, people seemed to think that the Great Migration was accidental rather than purposeful. Historians assumed that people left because the draw of jobs in the North was so great, when in fact it was desperate people fleeing from the oppression of Jim Crow South. The book is simply astounding.
*I have successfully avoided all turkey eating activities again this year. Meanwhile, and this is funny, my Mom's friend Cheryl was also at dinner. Apparently, she doesn't like turkey that much either. When asked, my go-to answer is, "I think turkey is a little too game-y." So I say this to Cheryl, and she said, "Oh yes. To me, it just tastes *dead*, you know what I mean." Of course, that's exactly what I mean when I say gamey! Turns out there is someone in the universe more blunt than me!