I am not writing a review of “Sula” by Toni Morrison.
I’m just so bowled over by the experience of reading this slip of a book, that I have to blabber about it. At 174 pages, it took me a few hours to finish. But what hours! I often say that it is impossible for me to stick to one book at a time. Like a true bookslut, I let 2 or 3, sometimes even 5 or 6 books enter my life at the same time. Not so with Morrison. Morrison has won the Nobel prize for literature, and there can be no doubt in my mind why.
I know quoting passages would only make this a long post, but simply I have to. Here, Morrison is describing the experience of a young man of 20 as a soldier in World War I:
He ran, bayonet fixed, deep in the great sweep of men flying across the field. Wincing at the pain in his foot, he turned his head a little to the right and saw the face of a soldier near him fly off. Before he could register shock, the rest of the soldier’s head disappeared under the inverted soup bowl of his helmet. But stubbornly, taking no direction from the brain, the body of the headless soldier ran on, with energy and grace, ignoring altogether the drip and slide of brain tissue down its back.
This is a passage where she describes Sula’s state of mind after her lover leaves her:
Every now and then she looked around for tangible evidence of his having ever been there………She could find nothing, for he had left nothing but his stunning absence. An absence so decorative, so ornate, it was difficult for her to understand how she ever endured, without falling dead or being consumed, his magnificent presence.
Sula talks of her falling in love: (Nel is her childhood best friend, whose husband she has already slept with at this point of time in the novel, and the two are friends no more.)
“When I was a little girl, the heads of my paper dolls came off, and it was a long time before I discovered that my own head would not fall of if I bent my neck. I used to walk around holding it stiff because I thought a strong wind or a heavy push would snap my neck. Nel was the one who told me the truth. But she was wrong. I did not hold my head stiff enough when I met him and so I lost it just like the dolls.”
And there are more. In fact, the writing on every page, almost each paragraph is as luminous and strong. And then there is the story. The story of a community of blacks (called Medallion in the novel) in the U.S of 1919-65, but also the story of a community of the downtrodden anywhere, at any point in human history, and in the end, a story of humanity.
There is magic realism—before Sula’s mother dies, she has a premonition in a dream, and there are other strange portents, when Sula returns she brings with her a plague of robins—but all of this is as much a part of the fabric of the novel. It all really magic, but then also magically real at the same time.
This is one literary novel that has a beautifully thought out plot, and an absolute pantheon of characters complete with a soldier who goes mad, a woman who cuts off her leg to establish herself as a matriarch, her daughter who has sex with any man in sight but would not fall asleep with them, Sula and Nel whose journey in life is sketched in such beautiful yet terrifying detail, and a lovemaking scene that is so poetic and real, it takes you into the core of things, of wondering about the essential nature of love, of men and women, and of sexuality. Add to this the seductive rise and fall of Morrison’s dialogs, and you have a book you can’t put down.
I was thinking of not going to yet another book sale the coming week, but now I am a woman with a mission: I need to find the following:
- The Bluest Eye (1970; ISBN 0-452-28706-5)
- Song of Solomon (1977; ISBN 1-4000-3342-X)
- Tar Baby (1981; ISBN 1-4000-3344-6)
- Beloved (1987; ISBN 1-4000-3341-1)
- Jazz (1992; ISBN 1-4000-7621-8)
- Paradise (1999; ISBN 0-679-43374-0)
- Love (2003; ISBN 0-375-40944-0)
- A Mercy (2008; ISBN 978-0-307-26423-7)
I think it is only fitting to finish this post from one of the lines in Sula, which I adore for its casual use of metaphors:
Shadrack rose and returned to the cot, where he fell into the first sleep of his new life. A sleep deeper than the hospital drugs; deeper than the pits of plums, steadier than the condor’s wing; more tranquil than the curve of eggs.