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Set primarily in Harlem in 1926, when jazz was bursting forth from the traditions of gospel and blues, this 1992 novel is one of Morrison's most experimental and least accessible. Written from multiple points of view, it uses the patterns of jazz itself for its structure. A series of overarching themes connects the work, but these are seen in individual characterizations and episodes which flash backward and forward, twisting and turning as they connect, misconnect, change, and ultimately create a unique world larger than the sum of its individual parts.

Focusing primarily on middle-aged Violet Trace, her fifty-year-old husband Joseph, and Dorcas Manfred, his teenage lover, whom he believes shares his passion, Morrison explores issues of love and fear, sex and obsession, violence and passivity, and strength and dependence, in addition to her big issues of color and gender. At the outset of the novel, Joseph has murdered Dorcas, fearing that his love for her will never be as great as it is at the moment just before her death. His wife Violet, distraught, has been forcibly removed from Dorcas's wake, and though she believes herself to be strong and indestructible, she shows her own vulnerability, sometimes seeing "that other Violet" who inhabits her soul.

Gradually, the individual stories of Violet, Joe, their families, and Dorcas and her family, some members of whom go back even into the 1800s, flesh out the characterizations upon which this novel depends. For much of the novel, however, the reader must be patient, not sure exactly how all these characters are connected to each other, like the most experimental improvisations in jazz. Gradually, they do connect, and gradually the theme of redemption emerges triumphant.

Brilliant in its construction and thematic development, the novel requires the reader to make many connections which other authors (and Morrison in her other novels) make or suggest as a matter of course. Her complex, spiraling structure (which Faulkner also employs) in Beloved, Song of Solomon, and even an early novel like Sula, for example, seems more effective in these, perhaps because these novels have smaller casts of characters, and the importance of particular episodes and the relationships of many characters are clearer. For me, this was a novel to appreciate, rather than to love. n Mary Whipple
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For many African-Americans, the period from 1860 through 1930 was a particularly challenging one. The formal slavery of the South transitioned into a vulnerable rural economic existence, dependent on the weather and the price of crops. The promise of the city lured many to leave their homes, and adopt city life-styles that put new social pressures on them and their relationships. Jazz tells this story through the microcosm of one marriage, that of Joe and Violet Trace.
Unlike many books about marriage, this one is a love story. Although it bears no relationship to any romance novel you have ever read, it reveals the way that the need for love develops from within each of us and allows us to grasp its potential when we respond to the yearnings of those we care about.
Music was important in the lives of many people during those years. Churches and music halls vied for the attention of most people in the cities. Jazz was a new influence, bursting on the scene with a combination of extreme freedom and mutual respect for the other players. In this book, jazz is represented both as a symbol of freedom and as a source of base impulses that can lead people astray. Ms. Morrison also pays homage to jazz by building her narrative around the individual stories of those involved taken in solitary order, much like the solos in a jazz piece. The narratives all weave together, but you have to hear the whole piece to understand how. Be patient with what seem like digressions. They are really transitions into new perspectives, like when a horn does a riff before returning to the theme.
You also get the metaphor of jazz used in the relationship of the two Traces. They were originally in rhythm with each other, then fell out of rhythm, and then regained their ability to improvise together. It's very nicely done!
To me, the best part of the book was that Ms. Morrison does not permit her characters to fall back on misfortune, fate, and heredity as excuses for misbehavior. Clearly, those factors affect us, but we all have the potential to rise above them. We need only open our eyes and start responding to those closest to us. Then, we can build a better life together.
The family background of the two Traces is a rich tapestry as well of the social history of African-Americans during this period. Ms. Morrison's imagination is quite remarkable in the variety and vividness of these characters!
For those who are interested in understanding more about the roots of the Jazz Age, this book will also be very appealing.
After you have finished thinking about the lessons of Jazz, you should consider where you display the good characteristics of a jazz player . . . and where you do not.
Feel the rhythm around you!...
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For many African-Americans, the period from 1860 through 1930 was a particularly challenging one. The formal slavery of the South transitioned into a vulnerable rural economic existence, dependent on the weather and the price of crops. The promise of the city lured many to leave their homes, and adopt city life-styles that put new social pressures on them and their relationships. Jazz tells this story through the microcosm of one marriage, that of Joe and Violet Trace.
Unlike many books about marriage, this one is a love story. Although it bears no relationship to any romance novel you have ever read, it reveals the way that the need for love develops from within each of us and allows us to grasp its potential when we respond to the yearnings of those we care about.
Music was important in the lives of many people during those years. Churches and music halls vied for the attention of most people in the cities. Jazz was a new influence, bursting on the scene with a combination of extreme freedom and mutual respect for the other players. In this book, jazz is represented both as a symbol of freedom and as a source of base impulses that can lead people astray. Ms. Morrison also pays homage to jazz by building her narrative around the individual stories of those involved taken in solitary order, much like the solos in a jazz piece. The narratives all weave together, but you have to hear the whole piece to understand how. Be patient with what seem like digressions. They are really transitions into new perspectives, like when a horn does a riff before returning to the theme.
You also get the metaphor of jazz used in the relationship of the two Traces. They were originally in rhythm with each other, then fell out of rhythm, and then regained their ability to improvise together. It's very nicely done!
To me, the best part of the book was that Ms. Morrison does not permit her characters to fall back on misfortune, fate, and heredity as excuses for misbehavior. Clearly, those factors affect us, but we all have the potential to rise above them. We need only open our eyes and start responding to those closest to us. Then, we can build a better life together.
The family background of the two Traces is a rich tapestry as well of the social history of African-Americans during this period. Ms. Morrison's imagination is quite remarkable in the variety and vividness of these characters!
For those who are interested in understanding more about the roots of the Jazz Age, this book will also be very appealing.
After you have finished thinking about the lessons of Jazz, you should consider where you display the good characteristics of a jazz player . . . and where you do not.
Feel the rhythm around you!
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on 19 July 2008
My favourite book of all time

I was lucky enough to study this book during 6th form college with a good teacher. Instead of butchering its beauty she illuminated it; leading us through the more complex prose (their beauty all more appreciated due to a deeper level of understanding) and highlighting some of the more obscure elements that might have gone unnoticed (or perhaps not understood).

At 16, though not niave, I was perhaps unaware of the many elements and angles of understanding related to racism, especially in America (which seemed a world far removed). But there is much more to Morrison's Jazz than American prose. Unlike so many others, that parade the usual melting pot, American Dream, Racism themes, Morrison examines human relationships in a real and down to earth way.

Having finished the book I walked around in a daze for a couple of days reconsidering almost everything I had previously thought (that is no overstatement). Though some obvious questions are raised (especially the lives of afro-Americans), I did not meditate on racism or poverty but rather relationships and the ties between human beings.

Im not sure if it was because of the time of my life that i read it, or whatever but to me Jazz spoke volumes.

This book really is amazing.
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on 9 March 2004
For those who read Morrison's BELOVED, this book is a must read.JAZZ is about Black culture, though nowhere we are openly told so.Those who know anything about Jazz music, know how much influenced it is by the Black culture.It is their voice, so is the narrative voice in this book,though it is hard in first go to come to any referential similarity between the music and the book.It is a brilliant experiment in post colonial, postmodern fiction.The layers of narrative cutting and underminig each other as the book progresses, the abrupt pauses between unumbered chapters, and the strange very last paragraph where narrator talks to the reader and make the reader conscious about the act of reading-these all points i found really interesting myself.
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on 10 November 2000
This is an extraordinary book. It raises difficult questions about identity and freedom yet in spite of its moral complexity includes some of the most moving passages I've read.
Whilst the narrative style requires concentration and engagement, preseverance is well rewarded. The last pages stand on their own as a profound meditation on love.
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on 26 October 1999
From the first page of this book you become involved in the lives of these characters. You know them, know their history, their motivation and their thoughts. The language is, as the Jazz music itself, flowing, expressive and utterly brilliant. It is fluid and mimics with brilliant accuracy the virtuosity of the music which features so highly in the book. This is a perfectly painted portrait of everyday yet extraordinary people, of a place, a time in history, and of a people. Morrison creates a world where people are flawed, but real, and she draws the reader into the tangled web of lives which inhabit the land of 'Jazz'. Having read nearly all of Toni Morrison's other books I feel that although not quite as good as some of the others, 'Jazz' stands by itself as a masterpiece of modern literature, breaking the rules with the style, flair and ease of a true Jazz musician.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 February 2016
The story is set in New York in the 1920s and starts with the murder of a young woman by the man who had had her as his mistress. The author uses this as a starting point and tells what happened to Joe and his wife and all those connected with the girl after the murder as well as retracing their steps into the past so that we understand how they came to be in their current position. I have to say that the narrative thread moved around a lot and I wasn’t always sure exactly who I was following and in what time period – this wasn’t helped by the fact that she often retells the same events from different points of view.

All the characters have started somewhere else and have moved to the city and been changed by the way of life and its rhythm. Toni Morrison uses the image of jazz music and of city life to reflect change and the parts of the book set in Harlem are brittle and rapidly changing. The parts of the book set in the country and in the south are written in a different way and reflect a more leisurely but poorer life. The writing style is an important part of the book.

The author’s message becomes clear by the end and that is that whatever the city does the history of these people is rooted in slavery, poverty and oppression, and that they have to know this before they can truly understand and love one another. The backstories of the characters can often be very emotional but the book expresses a hope for the future based on the city life.

I thought this book was easier to read than “Beloved” although a lot less harrowing. I did find the narrative style confusing but I enjoyed the way that the author tied up all the storylines by the end.
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For many African-Americans, the period from 1860 through 1930 was a particularly challenging one. The formal slavery of the South transitioned into a vulnerable rural economic existence, dependent on the weather and the price of crops. The promise of the city lured many to leave their homes, and adopt city life-styles that put new social pressures on them and their relationships. Jazz tells this story through the microcosm of one marriage, that of Joe and Violet Trace.
Unlike many books about marriage, this one is a love story. Although it bears no relationship to any romance novel you have ever read, it reveals the way that the need for love develops from within each of us and allows us to grasp its potential when we respond to the yearnings of those we care about.
Music was important in the lives of many people during those years. Churches and music halls vied for the attention of most people in the cities. Jazz was a new influence, bursting on the scene with a combination of extreme freedom and mutual respect for the other players. In this book, jazz is represented both as a symbol of freedom and as a source of base impulses that can lead people astray. Ms. Morrison also pays homage to jazz by building her narrative around the individual stories of those involved taken in solitary order, much like the solos in a jazz piece. The narratives all weave together, but you have to hear the whole piece to understand how. Be patient with what seem like digressions. They are really transitions into new perspectives, like when a horn does a riff before returning to the theme.
You also get the metaphor of jazz used in the relationship of the two Traces. They were originally in rhythm with each other, then fell out of rhythm, and then regained their ability to improvise together. It's very nicely done!
To me, the best part of the book was that Ms. Morrison does not permit her characters to fall back on misfortune, fate, and heredity as excuses for misbehavior. Clearly, those factors affect us, but we all have the potential to rise above them. We need only open our eyes and start responding to those closest to us. Then, we can build a better life together.
The family background of the two Traces is a rich tapestry as well of the social history of African-Americans during this period. Ms. Morrison's imagination is quite remarkable in the variety and vividness of these characters!
For those who are interested in understanding more about the roots of the Jazz Age, this book will also be very appealing.
After you have finished thinking about the lessons of Jazz, you should consider where you display the good characteristics of a jazz player . . . and where you do not.
Feel the rhythm around you!
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on 3 October 2008
I had to read this for A Level English and at first I found it almost impossible to get into. A lot of it tends to go over your head but as you keep reading and get to the end, something just clicks and at the last 3/4 of the last chapter, you honestly believe it's a masterpiece. Upon several rereadings of the book, I found I understood more of it and it's just wonderful. Especially the last paragraph.
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