jo's Reviews > The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
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Jul 30, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: african-american, not-fiction, i-audioed-this
Read from April 29 to May 11, 2014

so i told myself that i'll never write a negative review of a book by a living writer unless said writer is super duper famous and therefore unlikely to care about my puny review (see for instance Haruki Murakami, whose 1Q84 i was ready to throw out of the window with olympic passion, or John Green's insufferable The Fault in Our Stars, or David Levithan's equally insufferable Every Day -- i treated the last two with much more moderation than i treated IQ84, because i didn't want to hurt readers' feelings, but i got hate comments anyway). so i'll limit myself to saying that this book, which i listened to in audiobook, kept me entertained engaged for a good long time, and for this i'm grateful. i'll also say that

1. i didn't learn one damn thing, and i don't even know that much about black life after reconstruction and during jim crow

2. the stories of the three chosen protagonists are meant to be exemplary but really aren't (this is one of the main reasons i am angry at the writer: tell us the stories for what they are, but don't elevate them to some sort of representative status they are just too particular to have)

3. the work of oral history is remarkable and loving, so kudos for that

4. i'm not sure why wilkerson feels the need to repeat the same things over and over. i, for one, remembered them well and felt annoyed at being treated like i couldn't retain a simple piece of information from one chapter to the next

5. it's really all about the men, except a kind of apotheosis of the one female character in the epilogue (also meant to be paradigmatic, but in fact just a product of life circumstances).

i'm really happy so many people read and liked this book. this piece of american history needs to be known by ALL, so that we can understand the predicament of racial tension and abysmal racial injustice in our modern cities and societies. wilkerson makes some moves toward explaining all this, but falls far short. that would have been really interesting. it could easily have been a 200 page book.
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message 1: by Miriam (last edited May 15, 2014 08:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Miriam I completely agree on point 3 -- her repetition drove me nuts. The book isn't very complex narratively either and I complained lots while reading it but, possibly because I'm Canadian and wasn't immersed in this history, the book really shook me up. I thought she did a good job of showing how limited, demeaning and dangerous life could be for Black Americans in the South and the North. And she gave me a a context for some recent US events and why White Americans and Black Americans respond the way they do to those events (or why those events happen in the first place).


message 2: by jo (new) - rated it 2 stars

jo Miriam wrote: "I thought she did a good job of showing how limited, demeaning and dangerous life could be for Black Americans in the South and the North."

hi miriam! yes, she did a terrific job of that, and that's why in many ways this book should be mandatory reading. something i didn't mention in my review but was struck by (and should therefore have mentioned in my review, and i may do so with an ETA) is the simple dignity and humanity she restores to these black men and women, whom our culture pushes us relentlessly to see as less than or at least irremediably "other." that was something that really helped me, because of course i'm a product of this culture too, and have knee-jerk reactions that i try to correct all the time. in this way, this book really helped.

and yes, the current racialization of american cities and of the wider american scene, for sure. one thing i was expecting her to say which she never said was that, on the part of american whites, there was at the time and still is (because little has been done on the part of those whites to correct it) a primeval, almost limbic rejection of "blackness." when wilkerson compares black migrants to european immigrants she talks about various advantages the latter enjoyed that the former were not able to enjoy. all this is correct. but she should also have mentioned, i believe, white's hatred for blackness -- black skin, black faces.


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