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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele…
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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir (edition 2010)

by Michele Norris

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1731468,650 (3.8)8
Member:bfister
Title:The Grace of Silence: A Memoir
Authors:Michele Norris
Info:Pantheon (2010), Hardcover, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:memoir, race relations, integration, Minneapolis

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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele Norris

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I'm a little let down by this one. I picked this book up because I saw the author on the Today Show, and was fascinated by the concept of the book--Norris says she "set out to write, through original reporting, a book about 'the hidden conversation' on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that 'the conversation' in her own family had not been forthright."

Sounds really interesting, right? And, well, the stories she tells are interesting. But I guess I feel let down that she never really discusses how she is affected by that. Does that newly discovered history change her feelings about racial relations? Does it change...anything? She never really relates any of it to herself. She just shares the stories, guesses at her family members' motivations for hiding them, and then moves on.

Furthermore, I really would have enjoyed it if she'd written a bit about her intended subject. Once given the background we have about her family, it would have been far more meaningful to read her thoughts on the hidden conversation on race in the social and political climate today.

The book's OK. Norris is a good storyteller, but not a great writer--things are strung together a big oddly, and chapters end in abrupt places. Honestly, it felt like she could have covered her material far more concisely and efficiently--I kept wondering why we were reviewing certain chunks again and again. It just felt really disorganized. But I also thought it was worth sticking with it. 2.5 stars. ( )
  fefferbooks | May 12, 2014 |
I came across this book as my girlfriend was weeding through her room. In 2011-2012 all students at Sac State (where she was) were encouraged to read it, and it was assigned for her composition class. She didn’t care for it too much. Her loss, I say.

Norris’s name might be familiar to you who listen to NPR. She is one of their news correspondents. In 2011 she began writing a book about Obama and what his election means for African-Americans. She wound up writing a book diving into her family history and how it intertwined with many seminal events in black history. She found out things about her maternal grandma and her father that they hid from her (and everyone else) for life.

Her maternal grandma, it turned out, worked as an “Aunt Jemima” saleswoman in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Norris even managed to turn up a newspaper article about her grandma, celebrating her achievement as a representative of a major brand. Aunt Jemima was actually based on racist “slave mammy” stereotypes, evoking nostalgia of pre-Civil War days. Norris tries to dive into her grandma’s mind and make sense of the ambivalence she would have felt, using something traumatically racist for her own benefit and fortune.

She also found out that her father had been shot by a white cop as a young man. She was shocked. Her dad, the most law-abiding man she ever knew, a man who worked hard and took pride in his perfect garden and polished car – attacked a cop. This was in 1946, in Birmingham, a city later reviled during the Civil Rights era as the “most segregated city in America.” He had just returned from his armed forces tour overseas. Norris does some amazing searching to find police records from that time, and interviews some elderly people who were involved in her dad’s shooting and arrest.

But why did he never say? This is where Norris captures the “grace of silence.” Her grandma, dad, and all her other relatives scarred and traumatized by racism were not passive or too frightened to speak, she argues. Instead they chose to not dwell on the negative. But how, Norris asks, can the healing begin without any testimony? She understands the grace of silence, but prefers the catharsis of opening old wounds. Thankfully her way of writing about those wounds is clear, deftly mixing personal and political. Her conclusion – about bringing in everyone to conversations on racism, not just victims – is spot-on. A neat book.
4 vote JDHomrighausen | Dec 21, 2013 |
Michele Norris began the journey of discovering her own family experiences as a means to find a way into discussion of race. She felt an unprecedented openness for conversation, yet authentic conversation never really happened with participants still carefully walking around the subject. She attempted conversation in her own family, only to find the same experience. And so her journey began. Her story is well written with her questions, quandaries, insights, and emotions unfolding as they occurred for her. I particularly liked that she couched her journey as a search into the roles of silence and voice.

She ends her epilogue with encouragement to ask our own families to "tell me more about yourself." "There is grace in silence, and power to be had from listening to that which, more often than not, was left unsaid." ( )
  lgaikwad | Sep 21, 2013 |
Not as happy as I wanted to be about the book. In some respects, it felt like a very extended NPR essay. The author seemed nearly detached from her own subjects, which is not what she likely intended. That said, her father was especially brought to vivid life here. ( )
  olevia | Apr 5, 2013 |
This is as much a history of the Civil Rights movement following the second World War as Michele tries to discover who her father was as a person after he has died and asks the questions about how society views the black man in their midst. I found myself more involved in the first half of the book, but wanted to see it through. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307378764, Hardcover)

In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.
 
Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.
 
Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:01 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Michele Norris, host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," set out, through original reporting, to write a book about "the hidden conversation on race" that is going on in this country. But along the way she unearthed painful family secrets. Extraordinary for Norris's candor in examining her own complex racial legacy, "The Grace of Silence" is also informed by hundreds of interviews with ordinary Americans and wise observations about evolving attitudes toward race in America.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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