The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
3 words: narrative, absorbing, poignant
You know when you read a book that you realize is going to unseat one of the books on your top 10 favorites list? Happened to me with this book.
Isabel Wilkerson is one of those remarkable writers who blends intimate, individual narratives with a broad look at a major event in American history. In other words, she’s a genius writer of narrative nonfiction.
Her writing invites the reader to walk alongside the three people she follows, and I marveled at the detail she included. Once I read the Acknowledgments, I saw that she spent countless hours interviewing the three people whose stories she tells in depth, and she traveled with them back to their starting points in the South. They clearly developed a closeness and trust, and that comes through in the writing.
The Great Migration took place during the first part of the 20th century, when millions of Black Americans moved from the South to the North, seeking a better life. In some cases, their stories are terrifying, as they fled the threat of lynching. This book blends uplift with heartbreak, hope with fear, and self-deliverance with a tempering of displacement.
One of the things that makes this book so powerful is that the reader gets to learn on multiple levels — intellectually because the book is filled with fascinating facts about the Great Migration, emotionally because we as readers grow to care deeply about the people we’re reading about, and spiritually because this narrative is an important part of our American story and who we are as a nation — the good and the ugly. These unique stories tell the bigger story, and at the same time remain the experience of the single individuals who lived them.
And throughout the book, the writing is lyrical and expressive and a pure pleasure to read. More than once, I read a sentence out loud for the sheer pleasure of the language.
Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about the Great Migration, nonfiction by Black authors, narrative nonfiction, lyrical writing, #ownvoices nonfiction, individual stories interwoven in a larger historical context