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Sula by Toni Morrison



Isn’t it wonderful to have these authors you just feel entirely safe with? I can open any Toni Morrison book and I know for sure that I will be challenged, but I also know it will be more than rewarding. When you start reading one of her novels, not knowing yet where it will lead (though knowing for certain that it will lead through personal crises and societal injustices), you find yourself right wherever she wants you. Immediately pulled in by her magnetic, mesmerising voice, awareness heightened, curiosity stirred.

 

My experience of reading Sula was no different, though this, her second novel, might be her easiest I have read so far. Still, easiest Morrison does not equal an easy read.

 

Sula Peace and Nel Wright were the best of friends. Their connection growing up so strong, so particular, that that label almost appears too weak. Nel has always been a good girl and grows into a good woman, a good wife – a diligent follower of social rules. Only Sula could lure her to step her toes over feared lines. Sula, with her bold daring. Sula, who has grown up in an untraditional household and has long needed to be brave to stand out. Independent and rebellious she was looked on with generosity as a wild girl, a generosity that quickly morphed into suspicion when she failed to transform her ways in adolescence. Unbothered by the community's opinion, Sula leaves the town to attend college and leads a busy city-life disregarding her origins. And yet, a decade later, she returns to the Bottom, only to find the suspicions against her have fortified, that she is now considered as something much darker than a careless wild child.  She becomes, in the town’s eyes, a man-stealing, death-bringing symbol of darkness. Not even her friendship with Nel seems save from the shadows spreading around Sula.

 

“But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”

 

In this novel about girlhood and friendship, complicated by racism and class, Morrison is Morrison – frank and uncompromising, always saying exactly what she came to say. Her protagonists, especially her women, are always so fiercely alive that the violence and injustices she deals with are all the more painful and real. The eponymous anti-hero in particular is a brilliant character, unlikeable, maybe, but dazzling and strong. She is the kind of woman Morrison excels at creating, smart and rebellious, dissatisfied with women’s lot and yet vulnerable and tender. Toni Morrison also proves her talent in telling stories of childhood and adolescence and the scenes describing Nel and Sula’s sexual awakening show her absolutely superior writing-skills.

 

There is an element of the strange in this book, however tame and subtle it might be, that provides the buzzing, vibrant and layered quality that make Morrison’s novels feel so rich and unique. Sula is poetic and artistic, carefully constructed and expertly executed. A novel about the unexpected forms love can take in challenging times and how impossible it is to forge your own identity when the world is watching and wants to see you fail.

 

 

Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossoming things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.


First published by Knopf, 1973

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