"The Grace of Silence," a memoir by Michele Norris

Sunday, September 19, 2010; BW12


A Memoir

By Michele Norris

Pantheon. 185 pp. $24.95

Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's "All Things Considered," grew up being told to "rise above" racial discrimination and keep her "eye on the prize." She didn't realize then that her African American parents were trying to do the same. In her memoir, "The Grace of Silence," Norris chases after a family secret revealed too late -- that her father had been shot by a police officer in Birmingham shortly after being discharged from the Navy after World War II. Learning of the incident years after her father's death and long after other family members' memories of the event had faded, Norris can only guess at how it must have haunted him for the rest of his life.

She blends the story of her childhood -- and her quest to fill in its gaps -- with a wider view of Southern race relations immediately following World War II, a period often overshadowed by history's focus on the Martin Luther King era of the 1960s. "What's been more corrosive to the dialogue on race in America over the last half century or so," Norris asks, "things said or unsaid?" Her struggle to answer that question becomes a powerful plea to readers to doggedly pursue their families' story lines. She reminds us that speaking candidly about race in America starts not at the president's teleprompter but at our own dinner tables.

-- Lisa Bonos

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