Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review of "Sula" by Toni Morrison




The Bottom' is a community of black families in the hills above the valley city of Medallion, Ohio where white families live. The story begins in the early 1920's - just after the end of WWI - and traumatized soldiers are returning to town. The main characters in the story are Nel and Sula, who bond as young schoolgirls in 'The Bottom'.

Nel is the only child of a repressed mother determined to control every aspect of Nel's life while Sula grows up in a rather raucous extended family. This includes her grandmother Eva - an elegant woman who lost a leg in mysterious circumstances; her mother Hannah - a free-spirit who exudes sex appeal and beds almost every man she meets; a disturbed alcoholic renter; and Eva's other children - Plum and Eva Jr. Some members of the household are lost in various tragic circumstances that are difficult to comprehend and which probably affect Sula deeply.

Nel and Sula accidentally cause the death of a young boy, which they keep secret. They also engage in the usual youthful antics, enticing young men and dreaming of their futures. Then Sula leaves town and Nel marries a local boy, has children, and becomes a respected member of the community. Ten years later Sula returns and Nel is thrilled; however there is soon an irreparable break in the women's relationship which throws Nel's life off kilter. Moreover, Sula generally acts with such abandon (copying some of her own mother's behavior) that most local people label her a witch and shun her.

This is a rather slight story whose strength lies in the memorable characters - and Toni Morrison is a master of characterization. With relatively brief but pithy descriptions and scenes she gives us a feel for the motivation of the important characters. We're able to understand (a little) about their turmoil and why they behave as they do - causing heartache and chaos around themselves.

I'm not quite sure I 'enjoyed' the book per se (as I found parts quite disturbing) but it's certainly worth reading.

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