Sunday, March 20, 2011

A secret told in syllables

I'm reading Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns," which is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The book, about the Great Migration of African Americans away from the South, is exactly the kind of journalism I hope I can do one day (Of course, Wilkerson is much, much smarter and more talented than I am).

Here is a little excerpt from the kind of intro to the book:

"Many of the people who left the South never exactly sat their children down to tell them these things, tell them what happened and why they left and how they and all this blood kin came to be in this northern city or western suburbs or why they speak like melted butter and their children speak like footsteps on pavement, prim and proper or clipped and fast, like the New World itself. Some spoke of specific and certain evils. Some lived in tight-lipped and cheerful denial. Others simply had no desire to relive what they had already left.

The facts of their lives unfurled over the generations like an over-wrapped present, a secret told in syllables. Sometimes the migrants dropped puzzle pieces from the past while folding the laundry or stirring the corn bread, and the children would listen between cereal commercials and not truly understand until they grew up and had children and troubles of their own. And the ones who had half-listened would scold and kick themselves that they had not paid better attention when they had the chance."

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