An amazing, gut-wrenching, sad book, which should be required reading for all Americans, yet I gave it 4 stars because I didn't enjoy it at ALL.
Toni Morrison does not flinch from the barest of truths about racism - both in terms of the way beauty has been historically portrayed in a fair-skinned, blue eyed, blonde idealistic way, and in terms of the historical and present day racism facing African-American children in America. As I read this book, I happened to see an ad for new dolls with natural black hair, and I was so glad. Morrison tells the story of poor Pecola, a set upon, tragic little girl with a damaged mother and a vicious, abused father, Polly and Cholly in a series of stories that intertwine. Pecola comes to live with another family with two fiestier, funnier little girls. This somehow makes her even more tragic. Morrison shows how chance encounters affect the characters view of themselves growing up, and how this in turn hurts their children. She uses language that no one else dares use, and is critical of the way that some African-Americans have willingly enabled a racist culture that holds their own children back while prioritising others. Sexual abuse is another central theme. I can't help but think that this is in part autobiographical. I loved it, but hated it too. It made me so angry and so sad, but I am glad I gave it my time. I don't think I will ever be able to forget this book.
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The story of the book is horrible, but I only bought it because I needed it for a subject that I was taking. And the book materially was ok, it had some things written in it, but it didn't bother me. Besides it is something that can happen when you buy a used book, but fortunately this was the only book, which this happened and if I compare with other books that I've bought, this one was more "expensive".
I wholeheartedly agree with a couple of the earlier reviews in that this is, one hand, a masterpiece, and, on the other, a hugely flawed and difficult work. This is the 5th Morrison book I have read (after Jazz, Beloved, God Bless The Child and Song Of Solomon) and she is probably my favourite author, so I knew what to expect, and, in many ways, I was not disappointed. However, I found myself overwhelmed by too many characters and a largely static narrative which was only driven forwards intermittently by the promise of denouement of the opening scene - the massacre in the convent. Unlike her other novels, where I ended end up becoming intimately acquainted with and compassionate towards the main characters, in Paradise there simply were too many, with backstories and circumstances that were not sufficiently memorable or distinct to make me really care about them. I suspect this was deliberate on Morrion's part, as Paradise is more about a changing society, than the individuals therein, but because that society is described in terms of its people, and the whole novel focuses on those individuals, it just became very hard work and I pushed myself through the final quater of the book simply because I didn't want to leave it unfinished, not because I was compelled by the story. As with her other novels the book is full of wonderful writing, and a touch of the fantastic every now and then, with details of mundane existence given the same value as metaphor and allegory, giving us glimpses into worlds that were, and still are, very real. Clearly many others have loved this book and I would definitely recommend it, but not with the same passion as I would her other novels.
Such a compelling read that kept me immersed in its pages and world that it was hard to come up for breath. A tough book to review as I just feel like gushing over it enthusiastically! I haven't read a book by Morrison that I didn't like but I did find this one quite different. It wasn't so raw nor did it deal with such uncomfortable subjects as the other books I've read by her so far that it did make a unexpected, but pleasant, change for me. Each chapter tells the story from a different woman's point of view (though always from the third person) and this is one of my personal favourite devices in storytelling. It is a story of race, as it tells the story of a black town founded on the principles that many original black towns, after slavery, were themselves colour conscience and this specific group of ex-slaves and free men (and their family's) were very dark black, searching to settle down but refused entry to a light-skinned black town. So they found Ruby, a place that disregards "white" ways but has a special grudge against the "light-skinned" of their own race. They find their nemesis in a convent house located outside of their town which is inhabited by a rag-tag of abandoned, forlorn but independent women of varying races which the reader is never made aware of except that one is white. The book starts off with a group of the townsmen descending upon the convent women and shooting the "white one" first. Then we go back in time and the whole story of both the town's founding and present state along with how the various women came and ended up staying at the old convent came to such an ominous state suvh as where we first find them. A totally gripping read of strong female characters who escape their dysfunctional lives and become independent and bond with each other while only miles away a secluded patriarchal society grows deeper and deeper into believing its own righteousness and thinking itself above the "whitemen's" law. A stunning read. Not my favourite of Morrison's but very close and appealing to see her write something a little different from her usual themes.
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