The Warmth of Other Suns is one of those books that I’d been meaning to get around to and just never did. I knew I’d love it. I knew it won all the awards when it was published. My friends raved about it. I even name dropped the title, derived from Richard Wright’s Black Boy, in my History 1302 lesson on the Great Migration. Nearly 9 years after its publication, I finally picked up a copy on audiobook and was instantly smitten with Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece.
The book focuses on the lives of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. They each had different backgrounds and found varying levels of success, both personally and professionally, after leaving the South. Some were just trying to make it out of Jim Crow alive; others had dreams and felt called to specific parts of the nation. But though the book focuses on these three individuals, readers learn about the myriad reasons why over 6 million African Americans fled the South from around 1915 and continued their exodus all through the 1960s. The impact on the economy, the Southern workforce, American culture, and the arts — not to mention impact on families’ educations and upward mobility — is overwhelming and immeasurable.
All Maggie Louise Higgins knew growing up was cleaning and childcare. Her mother, Anne, already frail from recurring flares of tuberculosis, was always pregnant; out of 18 pregnancies, 11 were live births, though not all of her children made it to adulthood. The house was always filthy, diapers always needed washing, children always needed feeding. The family fretted constantly whether Anne would survive childbirth.
Maggie, whom the world would eventually come to know as Margaret Sanger, always wanted more than a life of drudgery and childbirth. There were few options for girls as the nineteenth century drew to a close, especially poor ones. The older Sanger girls each had dreams of an education, only to have those dreams dashed as the family’s economic realities weighed down on them. The family then lay their hopes on Maggie, outspoken and intelligent, and pooled their meager resources to try to send her to school. At the very least, maybe she could be a teacher one day.
But Maggie didn’t want to be a teacher. She didn’t exactly know what she wanted, but she knew that she didn’t want to be stuck in the narrow confines of what was allowed of women of the era.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2019
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Length: 12 hours, 2 minutes
Source: Personal copy
What it is: A novel written as a collection of stories that are all somehow linked Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher in a sleepy Maine town. Some of the stories center around major moments in her life, while others only mention her in passing and instead focus on people who exist in her periphery.
Why I read it: I bought this book a good decade ago because of the buzz, and then it went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer. But it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since! Truth be told, it’s still sitting on my shelf; I ended up buying it on audiobook earlier this year and finally listened to it during my work commute.
What I thought: I know it’s a novel, but since each chapter is more like a short story, the book is much like any other short story collection: some are stronger than others. But since the book is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, the reader definitely gets a feel for the characters from different angles. As the title character, Olive naturally gets featured the most. She is a stubborn woman who had gone through some hardships and mostly sees herself living out her retirement years in peace. But her personality is sometimes too much for people, including her own son, and she can’t seem to understand how she pushes people away. It’s a beautiful book that excels at exploring its characters’ inner worlds.
Sonali Dev first popped up on my radar back in 2014 with A Bollywood Affair, the first in her Bollywood series. It was a fun, melodramatic read that pretty much made me a fan for life.
Dev is back with a new series, The Rajes, in which she puts her spin on Jane Austen. True to form, it has slightly over-the-top characters in completely relatable situations. Trisha Raje is a genius neurosurgeon in a family of control freak overachievers: her father is actual royalty-turned-successful surgeon/immigrant success story; her mother is a former Bollywood star; and her brother, Yash, is probably going to be the next governor of California. Her sister, Nisha, runs the campaign, and the other Raje members in the family’s orbit are tightly bound by loyalty and closeness to make the campaign succeed.
Enter DJ (Darcy James) Caine. He’s the Cordon Bleu, Michelin star restaurant-trained caterer hired to work his magic for Yash’s big gubernatorial campaign announcement. He’s also the overprotective older brother of Emma, a talented young artist who will die unless Trish can remove her brain tumor. The catch: the only way to do that will leave Emma permanently blind.
DJ and Trisha don’t like each other.
Kicked out of an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow, Stephanie Land was able to stay temporarily stay with her father and his girlfriend, but they were also struggling to get by. Her father was also abusive, and the presence of his daughter and granddaughter was creating even more of a strain. Kicked out yet again, Land and her daughter found themselves living in a homeless shelter for a while, and Land learned the ropes of the various government aid programs available to her. On the day they moved out of the shelter, her mother and stepfather (with whom she has a contentious relationship) came to the US from Europe for a visit. Her mom wanted burgers, so they went out for lunch — Land’s first meal at a restaurant in months. When the bill came, they expected Land to pick up the tab, and when she stammered that she only had $10 to her name, they grumbled and expected her to put those entire $10 towards the bill.
So. Clearly Land doesn’t have much in the way of a support system. She moves from the homeless shelter into another questionable relationship, and then into a tiny, cramped apartment that ends up being infested with black mold. Her daughter ends up with serious health issues from the mold, but they’re trapped for lack of any other living options.