Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Sula (1974)
Toni Morrison

Sula is Toni Morrison's second novel. It is very complex and very disturbing. Parts of it seem very real, but there are some truly horrific acts here which seem to defy explanation.

Whites don't come off well here; that's a given, I suppose. Yet I don't think racism alone explains all the suffering among the blacks of the Bottom, this book's aptly-named community. For that matter, neither does the first World War.

There's little to admire among the black men in this book, drawn to alcohol, drugs, and infidelity. But even the matriarch Eva commits a shockingly violent act against her own son. Is she mentally ill? Is there one single cause for all the sorrow in this book, or rather, as it seems to me, does cause pile upon cause?

Sula, the title character at the center of the novel, is something of a cipher herself, a morally empty character amidst the many empty spaces of the book. I don't find much to like in her, and I can't help thinking this community would have been much better off without her. But Morrison slyly has the community gain strength with its opposition to Sula, and lose its cohesiveness when she is no longer a factor.


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