Whew! I almost made it through the month without noting that I’d read a book. Now that I’m primarily reading the nonfiction from this year’s Notable Books list, I’m moving much more slowly.
I find that I need a different kind of concentration for reading nonfiction. I do best with them when I have early mornings free on weekends–and those were rare in June.
“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson reads quite quickly for nonfiction, due to Wilkerson’s storytelling ability. She follows the paths of three African Americans who move from the South to the North in the early 20th century. The three stand in for millions who made this trip. Using extensive interviews Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, she tells what they left, why they left, and what happened after that. She rarely loses the narrative thread. I found each person to be as interesting as the others.
The larger themes emerge, of triumphing over adversity, of mustering courage beyond expectations, of feeling like an outsider everywhere, of taking pride in surviving. The remarkable danger and indignity that everyday life represented for African Americans in the South colors each journey. Each person’s various choices in career, in marriage, in leisure, shape their migration story.
Wilkerson is a professor of journalism whose own parents were part of the Great Migration, moving from Georgia to southern Virginia to Washington, D.C. She adroitly combines interviews with other information, setting each context well without losing a sense, ultimately, of story.
I finished this book with a sense that I knew my country’s history better. I’ll recommend this to others who enjoy social history and readers who seek out others’ stories.