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  • Sula
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Written in 1973, Toni Morrison's second novel explores themes of life, love, sex, and death, contrasting Sula Peace and Nel Wright, best friends from childhood who grow up to lead totally different adult lives. Living in the Bottom, an ironically named, poverty-stricken black community in the hills of Medallion, Ohio, Sula and Nel, opposites in personality, share their thoughts, feelings, and secrets, some of them of life-and-death importance. Part of a family with a long history of violence, Sula believes she owes nothing to anyone except herself, while Nel's strict mother imposes limits and insists on her adherence to social values.

Though Sula eventually escapes the Bottom to attend college and travel from Georgia to California, Michigan to Louisiana, she always does what is expedient, having no real values or ambitions, other than her own pleasure. When Sula returns to the Bottom in 1937, the stable Nel is a wife and mother trying to keep her family fed and clothed, a woman who no longer has anything in common with Sula, though she becomes Sula's innocent victim. Morrison develops Sula's character through her dysfunctional relationships and selfish actions, showing her connections to her family's past but never blaming it for her later, abhorrent behavior.

The novel is a series of cycles and follows a circular structure, opening in 1965, as whites decide they want the Bottom land for golf courses and hilltop views and the blacks who have always lived there move to the valley with its more fertile land. The cyclical nature of life is also borne out in the lives of the characters, especially that of Sula, who escapes Bottom but returns inevitably to the community of her mother and grandmother. Racial segregation, accepted as a given, underlies all facets of the novel, but Morrison focuses on character here, avoiding polemics and creating a novel which manages to be tough but often darkly humorous, emotionally sensitive but often brutal, compassionate but realistic about human nature.

Rich with imagery and symbolism, the novel is also accessible and involving. Morrison creates characters with whom the reader identifies, even in Sula, who is a less than sympathetic protagonist; Shadrack, the shell-shocked war veteran who opens and closes the novel, wrings the heart even as he lives a life of absurdity. Filled with irony, intricate in structure, and well-developed in its themes, Sula is less complex than some of Morrison's later novels, but satisfying in its vividly drawn view of a struggling black community unified in its poverty. n Mary Whipple
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on 6 June 1999
If any one has every lost a best friend either by leaving or being left for the sake of betterment then this book will help them find the compassion to forgive before it is too late. If anyone has ever left a bad place or been left in a bad place this book will help them to understand bitterness can also nourish.
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on 17 October 2007
The central themes that Toni Morrison tackles in this work are relevant today and wonderfully executed, although very dark and in rough territory. Friendship, death (of more than the physical kind), a hard life, and little regard for morality comes across in this novel. Her primary characters are women, featuring her as an important writer in any Women's Lit class worth its salt. She holds a mirror, making us, forcing us to look, to reinvaulate American Society, to learn from our past so we do not repeat it in our future. However, younger readers should not be allowed this, because the language is harsh and there is some descriptive sexual scenes.

Morrison in detail develops the relationship between Sula and Nel, and show, in this short novel, how each move into different paths and how each must cope with the other's decisions. Sula becomes a seductress whilst Nel becomes a housewife. This woman who so loved Nel she cut off part of her finger to protect her later destroys Nel's family. Sula finds it difficult to stay within proper boundaries, apt to be irresponsible, whereas Nel counteracts her. Morrison also shows the product of the slave mentality: black men who did not feel responsible for their children. She keeps this consistently thruout her works. In the slave nightmarish world, black men did not have to provide for them, because that was the owner's job, and because the white man treated them as stock the black's family structure suffered very extensive damage which that is reflected even today in present society. The men would, when they wanted too, just disappear (Jude and BoyBoy here, Paul D in Beloved). The sins of the men are very great indeed.

Shadrack, who you find in the opening section, plays an important part with his National Suicide Day (January 3). Traditionally, water symbolizes life, but in this novel it harkens death, and Shadrack is linked to the water, being a fisherman. One of the central elements Morrison allows us to perceive is the black community's desire to better themselves, and the white community setting them back. The whites give the blacks hills for farmland, saying it is prime farm land. In one central scene, Shadrack, leading people like a pied piper, go down, and try to cross over a bridge unfinished. On the symbolic level, the blacks, want of work, wanted to cross over to the white man's land that the white man had unfairly dominated. Shadrack, although none follow him for years (National Suicide Day deals with Shadrack's disgust of being alive in a society that has a good deal of racial injustices), which culminates, with everyone following him down to the bridge, and he, like the Pied Piper (although Shad has a better cause) watch as death comes upon them. Water is important here in another scene as well, as illustrated in another scene involving Nel and Sula when they are children.

Over all, an ugly novel about harsh and bitter things. The situations are mean, but Morrison gives us a view into a dark part of life that many of us did not know about - I daresay we wish we didn't, either, because when she holds the mirror up to our face, we are quite repulsed what we see.

Originally issued August 5, 2000 on Amazon.com
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on 4 May 2002
This is a complex novel, despite the ease of its reading. The novel isn't just about a friendship between two deprived black girls in Ohio: there is always something sinister lurking under the writing, in the community, in people's relationships, and the reader is left peering at something beneath the water that never quite takes shape, wondering what is going on beneath the surface. Its quite depressing in places, and brutal to read in terms of how it is preoccupied with definitions of evil and peoples motivations, but it is beautifully written and crafted. Well worth reading.
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on 25 July 2015
Disppointed with this book. I found the relationship,between Sula an Nel lacked any depth. Some of the prose was lovely but overall I expected more. I bought this book having watched the Imagine programme aired by the BBC last wek. From that and all the hype,on Amazon I expected more. It didn't deliver. This is the usual story about two girls who,become friends one betrays the other over a man. Basic simple stuff and not as good as I hoped it would be. I have bought three other books and will let you know how they go.
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on 20 September 2001
Sula is a complicated novel which explores the themes of friendship, identity and the relationships between Blacks and Whites. The language used by Morrison is lyrical in places and the characters presented are complex. However, i would reccommend this boko for the serious reader who can appreciate the depth of the characters and story.
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on 27 March 2005
Toni Morrison got a well-deserved Nobel Prize for literature. This particular novel is about a woman, practically from birth and to definitely more than twenty years beyond her real death. This woman is living in a black community and as such the novel is a black novel. More about it later. What is absolutely surprising is that most of what is said and described in this novel, the poverty of this community, the rejection and segregation it is the victim of, is practically entirely contained in the black community itself. It gives this novel a universal dimension and the poverty, misery and at times blindness Morrison describes could apply nearly word for word to any European poor working class social group. « The purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined .. to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance. » (p.90) Replace « white people » by « rich people » or « bosses » and you will have the working-class literature of nearly any European country in the 20th century, D.H. Lawrence for one or J.B. Priestley for two. That leads me to what Toni Morrison says in some of her non-fiction books or lectures. She says that the whole white literature of the USA cannot exist without the presence in the books or at least in the author's mind of the Blacks as a beyond-the-white-frontier territory. Here it is absolutely clear that black literature in the USA cannot exist without the presence in the books themselves or at least in the author's mind of the Whites as a beyond-the-black-frontier territory. This book is a perfect demonstration of the point. It is also a great book because of the great richness of the psychology of her characters, here only women as main characters. She shows marvelously how what could seem to be erratic or crazy in the attitudes of some women is in fact the result of intricate crossings between experience and situations, one woman, in this case essentially Sula, bringing together what she came across in her life and among other elements several models, her mother, her grandmother and her best friend. But she is a failure because she never gets away from the models and since these models are contradictory that leads her to a suicidal return to her sources where she can die alone, rejected and selfrighteously rejecting everyone else even her best friend. Morrison goes just a little further by showing how her coming back and then her death can dictate some changes in the community, including a final suicidal demonstration and near-riot after her death. Rejected, Sula brings better attitudes in the community out of fear, but dead, she liberates negative attitudes out of a feeling of retrieved freedom. The book in other words explores the far-reaching presence and influence of some women in a community upon all the women and the men of this community. Women become central in such a human group and Morrison exploits this idea as no one has done it before.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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on 18 February 2003
Fans of Toni Morrison will love her second novel Sula - the tale of two girls in smalltown America and how their friendship changes over the years.
Morrison's contemporary classic subtly explores the themes of femininity and female identity in an isolated black community where women are defined by their relations with men. Morrison's writing is pyrotechnic - full of lyrical beauty and sensuality.
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on 6 February 2016
Would recommend this book! Loved her style of writing and my first Toni Morrison read! Will be reading more of her books!!! Ending could have been better though!
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on 30 May 2014
fantastic book full of imagination. Toni Morrison never disappoints. There is no one else quite like her. A powerful writer.
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