Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Review: "Home" by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite writers. I discovered her during my sophomore or junior year of high school, thanks to an amazing English teacher who made me love literature more than ever before and who changed my life in the process. She assigned us Song of Solomon and, like most of the class, I didn't get it (at first). It was unlike anything I had ever read before. I was shocked and disturbed by some of the imagery, as you should be with her work.

Then we arrived at Part 2 of the novel and everything changed. Milkman, the main character, began tracing his roots via family stories, songs and legends. I became utterly captivated and read ahead of where we were assigned because I couldn't put it down. It remains, to this day, one of my favorite novels of all time.

Since then, I have gone on to read (and often reread) all of her novels. In my college African American history classes, I got special permission to write an analysis of her work instead of a paper on a historical event like my classmates were doing. I met her at a signing for Love at Barnes and Noble and had a brief conversation with her about Song of Solomon (recounted below for those of you who have read it). So naturally, I had to read her newest work, Home.

Home is about a Korean war veteran who returns home, but like most veterans, can't shake the horrors of what he has seen and done. This is compounded by the extreme racism of his country and the fact that he has to rescue his sister from the hands of her employer, a doctor researching Eugenics and using his employees as test subjects.

One of Morrison's greatest strengths is her ability to shine a light on the darkest places in American life and history, and all humanity, really. She holds up things we don't want to see and forces us to look. This novel is no different in that respect. It also showcases a brother-sister relationship in a powerful, poignant way. She has previously focused on friend and even enemy relationships, adding new, unique layers to them, but this is the first of its kind.

One of the downsides of being a world renowned, Nobel Prize-winning author is that everyone constantly compares your works to see if you've "still got it." In my mind, there will never be another novel to compare with Song of Solomon. But Chloe Wofford has still got it, and for me, she always will.


*Spoiler alert - don't read below unless you've read Song of Solomon.

My high school English teacher told us that the ending of Song of Solomon is open to interpretation, and that she liked to believe that Milkman actually does fly in the end.

When I met Toni Morrison in NYC in 2003, I just had to ask her. She looked at me and then laughed. "Metaphorically!" she said, in a tone one might use to say, "Duh!"

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