Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Last summer, I was cruising around the internet, catching up on news-breaking moments, such as President Obama's vacation:)  Boring stuff, but it did talk about his summer reading books he'd taken with him.  The Warmth of Other Suns was on the top of his list, so I figured, if it's good enough for the President, it should be good indeed, seeing as he's a pretty smart guy.  Needless to say..thoughtful pick.

The Warmth of Other Suns is a non-fiction book that focuses on the Great Migration of the 20th century, of African-Americans from the deep south to the industrial cities of both the north and the west.  As a fairly well-read person and lover of historical-fiction, I thought I knew most of the 'biggies' of American history.  As I read this book, I realized how thin my own education had been - how did I graduate from high school, college, and graduate school, never having heard of the largest movement of a people in recorded history?  Shameful.

While non-fiction, this book takes on this historical period in the form of a story, rather reminiscent of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, where the historical information is given out and then the story of a particular person/family is tied into that piece of the time period.  The Warmth of Other Suns examines three people - a poor cotton worker who moves with her husband and children from Mississippi to Chicago, an orange picker from Florida who had wanted to attend college, and an upper-class young college graduate who moves to Los Angeles to practice medicine.  I loved how Wilkerson looked at three different socio-economic situations through these people; it gave a rich variety to the various reasons for migration, as well the final results.  She didn't choose 'perfect' people either, in particular the doctor who is difficult to like.  However, Wilkerson sheds much-needed light on this great migration, and opens ones' eyes to the historical context surrounding the African American population in these cities.  I learned SO much and hopefully washed away a bit of my ignorance.  For anyone wanting to become more culturally literate, more aware of how history affects us today, or if you just plain simply want to get smarter, I would strongly and vociferously recommend reading this book.

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