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The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir Paperback – September 6, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307475271
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307475275
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 83 customer reviews
I love to listen to Michele Norris on NPR.
Sharp Shopper
The book is very well written, (as i would have expected), and is an easy read.
Howard P
I read this as a recommendation from our book club.
Barbara J. Anthony

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on October 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've been a regular listener of Michele Norris for sometime, enjoying her stories on "All Things Considered". Never once, however, I did think or assume that there was such a deep and resonate story behind this voice that I love. In her stunning, reflective, and quietly beautiful new memoir The Grace of Silence, Norris not only covers her life, but her fathers, and dares to reflect upon the African-American experience in the United States. She produces a winning book on all counts.

President Obama's election serves as the catalyst for Norris coming out of the racial closet, so to speak. Many books nowadays have done the same thing, from Gwen Ifill's marvelous book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama to Obama's Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America (Chicago Studies in American Politics) or Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race (Lawrence Stone Lectures) and maybe even The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book fits snugly with these books, and yet, is different.

Norris' memoir is resolutely personal. She subtly weaves the narrative of her family, her childhood and growing up years, with the issue of race in a way that immensely instructive without ever feeling like it.
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Format: Hardcover
All of us know someone who is afraid of the shape the world seems to be in today, however, we seem to forget that this country and we as a nation has deal with trouble before and overcome. IN THE GRACE OF SILENCE, author Michele Norris shows us what can happen when one carries themselves in a way that mirrors the life they want to live.

Coming from a family that like many others have secrets about their past they would rather see left alone, Norris takes us through experiences that would have broken some but seemed to strengthen her resolve and even her faith.

THE GRACE OF SILENCE is a must read for anyone who is looking for a way to make the best out of their humble beginnings and shortcomings. Written as a true American story of endurance, there is no way that you can finish it and not be proud of who you are and the person you are becoming.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Davis on October 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read this book and went to Ms Norris in Sacramento. The book and the stories reminded me of my Italian family and their struggles. Like every 'new ethnic group or race' that enters an area, many people moved away when my dark skinned Italian immigrant grandparents moved into the neighbor near Buffalo NY. The shoveling the snow story before the neighbors left their homes made me laugh as this was one of the rituals for our family. My grandparents and parents lived with great dignity and integrity. They believe in and loved the United States. They taught us to strive for success but do it the right way. They also kept many stories of their trials from us so we would not become bitter or give up on the dreams that are possible to obtain in the United States.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Oteria S on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michele Norris writes as though she is in the room with you. At times it is as if she is thinking out loud. You feel her hurt and pain as she unwraps family secrets. Ms. Norris presents a lot of historical facts not only about Birmingham, Alabama but also the United States. So many things about the 1940's are clearly focused upon- Negros in the services, jobs, the right to vote.The Silence of this period, and the bonding of the people makes one proud to be an American.
It is amazing how so many police records can not be found and how the truth may never fully be told of the killings, injuries to so many people---- MEN, WOMEN and CHILDREN.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Liz Petry on March 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Dear Michele Norris,

When my friend Thelma gave me your book, she said your family and mine had much in common but the paths diverged in many ways as well. My sense of that analysis grew as I read your odyssey from Minnesota to Alabama and back. We are close in age and both grew up in virtually all-white communities.

I read how your mother said, "I'm no angel," and remembered my mother using those exact words. And when I objected, she maintained her own grace of silence by saying merely, "No, no. You don't know." I don't remember the context now, but I'm sure the corrosion of racism contributed to her feelings as much as it did to your mother's assessment.

But I was struck how different your parents' reaction to their surroundings: "Mom and Dad were obsessive about looking clean and stylish and sophisticated because they lived in a society that perpetuated the notion that black people, in the main, were none of those things." On the other hand, my mother thought nothing of outfitting herself at church fairs at twenty-five or fifty-cents a piece. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I saw my father in a suit, even though Mother and I both told him how elegant and handsome he looked.

My father did not endure the dreadful treatment your father did during or after his service in the segregated World War II Army. He, too, expressed bitterness at the preferential treatment offered the German POWs. Otherwise, he also had a wholly different reaction to his service. He spoke out often to the family about his expulsion from a Roman Catholic church in Washington, D.C. when he appeared in uniform. The priest gave him a list of churches were he would "feel more comfortable." He never went back to church except to attend the odd wedding.
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