From Publishers Weekly
In this eloquent and affecting memoir, Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, examines both her family's racial roots and secrets. Spurred on by Barack Obama's campaign and a multipart NPR piece she spearheaded about race relations in America, Norris realized that she couldn't fully understand how other people talked about race until she understood how her own family dealt with it, particularly with their silence regarding two key events. She intersperses memories of her Minneapolis childhood with the events that shaped her parents' lives: her maternal grandmother's short career as a traveling "Aunt Jemima," which always embarrassed her mother, and her father's shooting by a white policeman in Alabama in 1946. It is the shooting, which occurred soon after Belvin Norris Jr. was honorably discharged from the navy, that forms the narrative and emotional backbone of Norris's story, as she travels to Birmingham to try and piece together what happened. Though the quest is a personal one, Norris poignantly illuminates the struggle of black veterans returning home and receiving nothing but condemnation for their service. The issue of race in America is the subject of an ongoing conversation, and Norris never shies away from asking the same difficult questions of herself that she asks of others because "all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable."
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*Starred Review* Lauded journalist Norris, cohost for All Things Considered on NPR, intended to write a book analyzing the changing conversation about race in the Obama era. But once she realized that even within her own family, discussions about race were “not completely honest,” she changed course. The result is an investigative family memoir of rare candor and artistry that dramatically reveals essential yet hidden aspects of African American life. A fifth-generation Minnesotan on her mother’s side, Norris was stunned to learn that her maternal grandmother worked for Quaker Oats as a traveling Aunt Jemima, a revelation that sparks a paramount interpretation of this loaded icon. The next shock was discovering that when her father returned to Birmingham, Alabama, after serving in WWII, he was shot by a white policeman. This painful secret inspires a commanding exposé of the “scandalous violence against black men who had fought for human rights abroad” only to be denied freedom at home. A balance-beam writer, Norris looks at both sides of every question while seeking truth’s razor-edge. But she is also a remarkably warm, witty, and spellbinding storyteller, enriching her illuminating family chronicle with profound understanding of the protective “grace of silence” and the powers unchained when, at last, all that has been unsaid is finally spoken. --Donna Seaman