Friday, March 24, 2017

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson
Vintage Books
Published 2010

Book Jacket Description:

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Isabel Wilkerson, chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. She interviewed more than a thousand individuals, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country and ourselves.

My Review:

What I liked: Although we cannot go back in time and change the evil ignorance of humankind, it is still valuable to know the atrocities committed against black citizens and the mindset of the persecutors and the persecuted. I've often heard people say, and indeed I have said this myself, "We cannot change history so why go back there. I didn't do anything so why make me feel guilty? Let's move forward!"

I found the answer to that statement in this book. To truly understand the present we must understand the past. Wilkerson chronicles the lives of three people, two who fled north and one who went west. Life was almost impossible for them before they left with their families for the new "promise lands" only to find prejudice and struggles for survival in their new found homes. While they did not have to worry as much about lynching, they still were victims of degrading, low-paying jobs and even worse living conditions than what they had left. However, they at least had the opportunity to speak their minds and to overcome, without fear for their lives, and they eventually prospered. Their children, however, were faced with new evils: gangs and drugs. These would never have been tolerated in the South. 

When I read about the violent protests in Chicago and New York City between the races all through they years of the migration, it occurred to me, nothing really changes. The protests we see today on the television are a mindset resulting decades ago. 

It is important to know the stories of others to understand them. One generation tells the next of their pasts and this trains the mind to react to any perceived injustice. This is true of all races in America. 
So, if you write historical fiction you need to read this book. 

What I didn't like: This book could have been at least 1/3 shorter. Wilkerson repeats A LOT of information, often as many as four times. It made me want to shout, "Okay, I get it!" It is as if she forgot that she'd already given us this information. But shouldn't an editor at Random House have caught that. Also, she switches back and forth between characters, and while that didn't really bother me, it lead her to repeat things she had already written. This made the book plodding and I kept skipping pages. 

All in all, this book is very much worth reading. It opened my eyes and made me less frustrated by the attitudes we see between the races today. I guess you could say it raised my mind to fully seeing an individual and my compassion for him or her. Plus, it is a wealth of information for any person writing a historical novel during that time period. 

Isabel Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize winner who devoted 15 years to the research and writing of The Warmth of Other Suns. She has worked as the Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York times, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting.

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