Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson

I have a new book to read, non fiction it is titled The Warmth of Other Suns.
The Warmth of Other Suns” is Wilkerson’s first book. (Its title is borrowed from the celebrated black writer Richard Wright, who fled Jim Crow Mississippi in the 1920s to feel the warmth of those other suns.) Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today’s shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah’s couch.

Wilkerson follows the journey of three Southern blacks, each representing a different decade of the Great Migration as well as a different destination. It’s a shrewd storytelling device, because it allows her to highlight two issues often overlooked: first, that the exodus was a continuous phenomenon spanning six decades of American life; second, that it consisted of not one, but rather three geographical streams, the patterns determined by the train routes available to those bold enough to leave.

People from Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi boarded the Illinois Central to Midwestern cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit; those from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia rode the Seaboard Air Line up the East Coast to Washington, Philadelphia and New York; those in Louisiana and Texas took the Union Pacific to Los Angeles, Oakland and other parts of the West Coast. Wilkerson is superb at minding the bends and detours along the way. She notes, for example, that some migrants, unfamiliar with the conductor’s Northern accent, would mistakenly get off at the cry of “Penn Station, Newark,” the stop just before Penn Station, New York. Many decided to stay put, she adds, giving Newark “a good portion of its black population.”

1 comment:

School Time said...

I have read this book and I really enjoyed it. It shows how different folks were affected differently by the times that changed their lives.

I recall the woman who went from the cotton fields to a better life to finally living in the projects of a large city where offspring were lost in a world of drugs. For all their striving they still felt defeated up north just as they had down south!