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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,211 Ratings  ·  407 Reviews
In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2010)
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Laurie Anderson
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Michele Norris - journalist and former host of NPR's All Things Considered, among many other accomplishments - has written a tender, loving, honest book that is for anyone who cares about the people in their lives and the future of the United States.

Equal parts memoir and reflection on race in America, this book will likely open your eyes to things you never knew about. I had no idea, for example, of how the returning black veterans of WWII were treated (horribly) and how their response to the
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Wow. Every American should read this book. It's so much more than it appears to be on first look. The reader expects a family memoir, and that is provided along with crucial and little-known American history. This book contains so much elegant wisdom, eloquently told. Further, it asks us to do more, to be more, to understand more.

I've been listening to Michele Norris on NPR for years without knowing anything about her. You won't find much that's current about her and her work in this book, but
Sherry Lee
Jan 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been wanting to read THE GRACE OF SILENCE for some time having grown up in what I call South Scandinavian Minneapolis-a Black/Chinese girl passing for white. Although Michele Norris didn't delve into growing up in South Minneapolis as much as I was hoping, I wasn't disappointed.

She recorded history that made me realize there is so much I don't know. Her attention to detail has given me much to question-especially how different was it for my Chinese father, who also served in the Navy dur
Nanette Bulebosh
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Norris is about my age and, like me, grew up in the Midwest (her Minnesota to my Illinois) in a middle-class family. We're both also the youngest of three girls. Yet, in some ways, our childhoods couldn't be more different. Both my parents grew up in relative poverty and, from a young age, were well aware of the limitations of their class. But my dad never had to worry about being targeted for harassment by cops because of the color of his skin. He never had to suffer the indignity of being call ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it liked it
I read this book in a rush--skimmed it, really--when the person who was supposed to interview Michele Norris (National Public Radio, "All Things Considered") fell ill and I replaced her. It's not a great book, but Michele Norris is charming and articulate and I've been a fan for a long time. She was even better in person. The book is a memoir about her own family and the stories they never told her about their own experiences with race and racism in America--a silence she thinks common to famili ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book DOES read like a novel in many ways, as other reviewers have mentioned. I think what particularly appealed to me about this memoir was the many insights she offered about a significant era in our civil rights history, one that (as Ms. Norris observes) is often overlooked. The veterans of WWII DID set the stage for future successes and paid a painful price in the process. I love the family and history mix...It may not appeal as much to those who weren't a part of the sixties and the str ...more
Feb 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A refreshingly candid story of an African American family in MN, their roots in America, and particular the father's experiences coming from Birmingham, AL. There are various contrasts interwoven throughout: north/south, black/white, diverse cultural values within both white and black communities. And the author tells her story with pacing and drama to keep it a story, and not simple a monologue. The reader feels like he knows what it is like to be Michelle Norris, to know her parents and their ...more
Sep 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
I haven't read a memoir in awhile and this was a good one. I learned more about my own neighborhood, how black WWII veterans served our country, but were treated with so much disrespect and racism. We still live in a divided country and I think this book can help start a conversation. From the book, "But all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable. We need to be fearless while unburdening ourselves, even as we respect the same effort in others. There is ...more
Lois Duncan
Jun 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
I seem to be the only one posting here who was not enthralled with this book. The author may well be a marvelous woman, I don't think she's that good a writer. This account wandered all over the place, as if she'd never made an outline. She addressed an important subject, but could have made it much more interesting to read about.
An interesting read about racial issues 1943-1948

Though this book has many interesting thoughts on race in America, I was disappointed as I was expecting something more of a memoir of the author' life. Instead the author reflects primarily on two issues. Firstly she discusses the image of Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima figure whom her grandmother was hired to represent in the Midwest. Secondly she presents extensive research around incidences of police violence toward black (especially veterans) from
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Michele Norris, Co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” dives into the stories about race that her family talked about and the ones left unspoken, examining how it’s shaped her own identity.

I really enjoyed how she examines and shares both her family’s stories as well as the larger context in which they took place. She offers generosity and kindness in her understanding of people’s motives and in her interviews with folks.

Great as an audiobook—Norris reads her story herself and is obviously
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Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Grace of Silence is a moving family memoir about one woman’s journey as she digs into her family’s past and discovers much more than she had ever imagined. After Barack Obama’s historic win of the presidential nomination in 2008, NPR correspondent Michele Norris decided to take a deeper look into her African American family to see how they ended up where they are today. Once Norris started looking into it, she found her family had many secrets in their past and that maybe the best thing they ...more
Aug 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, has written more than a memoir in The Grace of Silence. It's a family history and a family mystery combined, set against the evils of Jim Crow Alabama post World War II and subtler forms of racism in Minnesota.

Norris's discovery that her father had been shot by a white policeman comes as a shock. It was never mentioned during his lifetime. The more she probes the mystery, the more complex the issue becomes. She decides ultimately that many
May 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was the selection for the first Minneapolis Reads this fall, and I hoped to learn a lot about the racial history of Minneapolis through reading it. Instead, I took a tour of Michele Norris' racial family history, which plays out mostly in other places.

The book's cover says it reveals family secrets from her grandmother playing an itinerant Aunt Jemima to her father's shooting by a Birmingham police officer. In point of fact, those are really the only two incidents the book addresses--
Laura (booksnob)
Every family keeps secrets that are hidden from the next generation. Whether intentional or not, some secrets are stories that never get told. These stories may explain or define who we are but stay hidden beneath layers of memory.

Michele Norris started out writing a book to explore hidden conversations about race and what she found were painful secrets her parents kept hidden from their children. This is Michele's journey to unearth the secrets of her past and find meaning and grace in her pare
K2 -----
Apr 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of this book and the way she told her family's story about race in America. I do not know her work on NPR as I quit listening years ago, but she is a talented writer and skilled journalist.

As Obama rose to become the first African American president she began examining race in America in a new light and wanted to understand how it played a role in her own family's life. Her parents were both hard working postal workers who were proud and encouraged their daughters
Apr 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
‘The Wisdom of Love’ would be another appropriate title- her parents let go of bitterness and worked hard to show people they were intelligent, hard workers. I believe this allowed their children to move on from the atrocities of the past and become more fully integrated into their country.

This was a bit of a painful read- I was not aware of the extent of prejudice in our country. I was also surprised and hurt to find out that there are people who hate me because I am white.

This brought up some
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting memoir/racial relations commentary hybrid. It’s fascinating how (NPR host) Michele Norris weaves her quest to learn more about her parents’ past with the changing state of racial relations during her lifetime. This book is pretty short and the prose somewhat bland (clichés abound) but it is definitely a unique take on the topic, including some heretofore unknown pieces of American History, or at least unknown to me. Norris’s parents were amazing, not only in a general sense, but in c ...more
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Michele Norris, the cohost of NPR's All Things Considered, writes about the lack of honest conversation about race in the United States. Before interviewing others on the subject, she comes to realize that her own family had not been open on the subject. Norris discovered that her father had been shot by a white Birmingham police officer just a few weeks after his discharge from the Navy after serving in World War II. He never mentioned the episode to either his wife or his daughter, but shortly ...more
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Michele Norris (she of the beautiful voice and great reporting on npr) has written a truthful, heartfelt account of her family history, which in many ways illustrates living issues of race in the 20th and early 21st centuries. She bravely explores this topic down to the bone, trying to meet the white police officer who shot her father in Birmingham, Alabama just days after his honorable discharge from the WWII navy, for example-- an incident her father had never told her about. She explores the ...more
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nf
I really enjoyed this book, although in the 2nd half I felt like she wandered away from the memoir part a little bit and explored the black military and post-military experience of the 1940s a bit more than was warranted. I enjoyed that part because
1. I did a project for a college symposium about the military as an intitution and in MY lifetime and experience have always felt that the military had better racial integration than the US as a whole. So I was interested to learn a little bit about
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written and heartfelt memoir exploring racial issues in this country and how they affected the author and her family. Norris, an NPR journalist and an African American woman born and raised in Minneapolis, began her book as a documentary about the racial dialog surrounding Barack Obama's election campaign. In the course of her writing she learned about the indignities and injustices her father, a post WWII veteran, suffered in the late 1940's in his hometown of Birmingham A ...more
Nov 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Michelle's story of her family's past history and her life growing up in Minnesota was enlightening. It was not what I expected - it was more about the history of her family's struggles and triumphs over racism than it was about the direction of US Sentiment, post-Obama, which is what I expected after reading the jacket. Many of her father's struggles were hidden from her growing up; like harassment from the police and being shot in Alabama. He enlisted to fight during WWII but was relegated to ...more
May 04, 2011 rated it liked it
This memoir is beautifully written and a wonderful ode to Norris's father. However, the author does not explore as much national dialogue on race as I had hoped. Although the dust jacket introduces the book as Norris' exploration of dialogue on race due to the Obama presidency, most of the text touches only on race in relation to her own family events. There is little dialogue explored in direct relation to Obama's presidency or other major sociological concerns of 2011. Since those topics were ...more
I know that many families don't talk much about the past and that often we keep secrets about our family histories, but Michele Norris' family kept quiet about a number of "big" topics. Norris had no idea how American history and racism had impacted both her grandmother and her father. I don't want to give the topics of this book away, but I am still trying to figure out how I would feel if life changing events were hidden from me.

What I liked best about this book was Norris' willingness to appl
May 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is definitely worth reading but not quite in the must read category. It's strength lies in its ability to tell one family's story against the backdrop of history and providing some universal insights while doing so. The author poses important questions, offers answers, but still leaves space for the reader's reflections and conclusions. There are times when she dwells on areas that are relatively unimportant, and some times other incidents are given short shrift, but on the whole this a mem ...more
Jeff Crosby
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
An elegant, poignant memoir from National Public Radio's Michele Norris focusing not only on her own story but more broadly, on issues of race in America - from the Birmingham, Alabama of Bull Connor and her father's childhood and young adulthood to the changing south-suburban Minneapolis neighborhood where she grew up in the 60s and 70s. There is wise counsel here for discussions of racial histories and hopes, if we would but listen. Including for the grace of silence, and the discipline of lis ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book, memoir
I enjoyed this memoir. While the author urges all readers to find out their family history and to talk with the elders before it is too late, but as a Black American that is interested in history, this memoir once again showed me that all of our ancestors endured much to have me be able to be who I am today.
So agree with the author that Grace is measured by what you do once you have climbed up the difficult mountain.
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Michele Norris, of NPR, tells the story of her life growing up in Minneapolis, with regular visits to Birmingham, Alabama, where her grandparents lived. It is almost more about her father's life and experiences, after serving in the military in WWII, and adjusting to the segregation that was very much a part of civilian life. As an investigative reporter looking into her own history, she finds some family secrets.
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Photo Credit: Mary Noble Ours

Michele Norris is one of the most trusted voices in American Journalism. Her voice informs, engages and enlightens listeners with thoughtful interviews and in depth reporting as one of the hosts of NPR’s flagship afternoon broadcast, All Things Considered. Michele uses an approachable interviewing style that is at once relaxed and rigorous. She’s interviewed world lead
More about Michele Norris
“There is often grace in silence. But there is always power in understanding.” 8 likes
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