"They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are 17 miles from a town which has 90 miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun." So begins Paradise
, Toni Morrison's first novel since winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. As one would expect from the author of such brilliantly imagined novels as Song of Solomon
, Morrison's Paradise
is ambitious, political, deeply spiritual and peopled with characters as complex as they are unforgettable. Time is fluid in the universe of this particular novel; though set in 1976, Morrison travels easily between eras, taking the reader back in time to the founding of Ruby, an all-black township in Oklahoma, at the end of World War II, then further back to the establishment of its predecessor, Haven, which parallels the story of Exodus: a band of former slaves wanders the Oklahoma territory in search of a homeland. Overlying the strong sense of character and place that imbues each page is a touch of the supernatural--ghost children skitter through the halls of an abandoned Catholic girl's school and "unseen friends" visit lonely women by night.
Even as Morrison deftly limns the history of the town and its inhabitants, she lays the foundation for the conflict brewing in the present-day story: A new minister has come to town, bringing with him a whiff of the politics that engulfed that era--civil rights, student uprisings, rioting in the streets--activities which speak to the restlessness of the town's youth. Meanwhile, 17 miles away at the former girls' school nicknamed "the Convent," a small group of unconventional women have moved in. Their stories, told in individual chapters bearing their names, are also stories of exile, exodus and eventual homecoming. For the men of Ruby, however, these women represent everything that is dangerous about the outside world and as the sanctity of Ruby's traditions begin to crumble, nine men go on a deadly hunt.
As always, Morrison is not afraid to explore the relations between the races or the genders and she is particularly adept at creating characters who, though frequently not likable, are always sympathetic. Paradise is a book you'll want to read more than once and each time you'll find something new to haunt and amaze you. -- Amazon.com
"It is a tour de force of writing" (Independent on Sunday
"Deeply serious and unexpectedly beautiful" (Harpers and Queen
"Compassionate, violent and magical" (Good Book Guide