I finished reading book number 23 for the year – a small novel called ‘Sula’ by Toni Morrison. It’s about two young black girlfriends, who are like one soul split into two bodies, that is until one of them marries. Sula, the single one, takes off to the world, away from ‘The Bottom’, the place where she grew up in. But as the goes through cities, she finds all places just as shallow & empty as ‘The Bottom’. So she goes back, to be reunited with her friend, but things don’t go as planned.
The book is a swift, almost superficial study of a young black woman who is ostracized in her hometown because she is sexually liberated and doesn’t care much for monogamy. Sula is almost 30 when she comes back to her black neighborhood and is looked down upon for not bending to the rules of society (code for not marrying). While author Morrison jolts the viewer with some extreme incidents to acquaint us with just how harsh poverty can be, the incidents aren’t connected enough to bring about a catharsis in the reader. What’s even more disappointing is how some characters are introduced with much pomp, only to never make an appearance in the story again. It’s like Morrison keeps initiating a sub-plot and then just forgets about it.
For me, this book just didn’t have enough of Sula. And even the little that there is… is not applause worthy. It felt like the author puts the protagonist on a pedestal for no damn reason. Sula does nothing to earn a living, we are vaguely informed that she may have gone to college, and had a slightly rough childhood. She is reduced to some sort of a sexual Madonna, perhaps not even that, because we are informed she is not very beautiful to look at. So what’s so unique about her? Nothing, except for the fact that she has one-night-stands and never gets possessive of the men she sleeps with, making her even more appealing to all the married men of ‘the bottom’. Maybe this 1973 book was ground-breaking for the year it came out in, but it’s quite unimpressive for 2021. It doesn’t have an enduring appeal.
Even the writing wasn’t very impressive. For a non-American reader, I had a hard time with some paragraphs and would have to read them twice over to understand what’s happening. Maybe the colloquial language adds authenticity to the narration, but for an international reader, it made for uncomfortable reading. Also, Morrison spends too much time describing what happens, instead of just showing us the incidents. It feels like someone has written a summary of a larger book. You know what I mean?
It’s a 3/5 for me. And I feel like I am being generous with the rating.
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