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Jazz [Paperback]

Toni Morrison
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1 1993 Plume Contemporary Fiction
Set in Harlem in the 1920s, this novel chronicles a bittersweet triangle involving a middle-aged door-to-door salesman, his mentally unstable wife, and his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. By the author of Beloved. Reprint. 150,000 first printing. K. PW.

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From Amazon

Jazz embraces the vibrant music and lifestyle of 1920s Harlem, an urban renaissance of opportunity and glamour. A novel of murder, hard lives, and broken dreams, Jazz sways with a lyric medley of voices and human consciousness.

Narrated by the author, Toni Morrison, this is an intense but gratifying three hours of tape. Background jazz music enhances the feel of '20s Harlem, a city that attracted thousands of black southerners hoping for better lives. Joe Trace and his wife Violet were part of this migration; madly in love with each other and the idea of this urban mecca, they "traindanced into the city." But like so many of the marriages in Morrison's novels, this union crumbles, and the dreams for a better life fade away. Joe finds another, a love "that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going."

In Jazz, time ebbs and flows like human memory, traversing between recollections of the past and expectations for the future; likewise, jazz music is often wild and chaotic. Here Morrison once again exemplifies herself as both a superb writer and a masterful storyteller. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Morrison's authoritative novel--a BOMC main selection and a 17-week PW bestseller in cloth--tells the story of three intersecting tragic lives, and adroitly uses the motif of jazz to make palpable the feel and excitement of Harlem in the 1920s.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars When prose is poetry July 18 2003
The book is a kind of poetry. Every word of it is right. You have to figure out how to be welcoming and defensive at the same time in the city according to one of the characters. Violet and Joe Trace live on Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Violet went to Dorcas Manfred's funeral with a knife. This occurred in 1926. Later she acquired a picture of the girl so that she and Joe could look at it in their living room. Violet is an unlicensed beautician who works in the apartment or in the apartments of her customers. After the funeral Violet usually worked in other places where people took pity on her and permitted her to do their hair. Violet had listened to her grandmother, True Belle, tell Baltimore stories. After the funeral Violet threw out her birds. This left her without her routines, rituals.
Joe and Violet met in Vesper County, Virginia in 1906. Dorcas moved to the city from East St. Louis where her parents had been killed in the riots. She lived with her Aunt Alice who disliked the music and felt it was responsible for most social ills. By the time she was eleven her whole life was unbearable. Alice Manfred worked hard to make her niece private, but she was no match for a city seeping music. Joe met Dorcas at Alice Manfred's place. Alice tells Violet sometime after Dorcas's death that she does not understand women with knives. Violet's father and mother had been dispossessed, in a sense driven off of the land. Her mother committed suicide just before one of the four or so times when her father returned to the family with funds. The important thing learned by Violet was never to have children. She had met Joe when she was doing a bad job of picking cotton. Joe did not want children either. Later on, though, Violet longed for a child.
Dorcas was young but wise.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenon March 7 2003
By dummy
Morrison has done it again. The story of a twisted love affair gone awry, Jazz takes you through the streets of an up and coming Harlem in the 1920s. It bares the souls and psyches of Violet, a 50-something black woman going through a midlife crisis, and her husband Joe, who falls in love with a teenage girl in an attempt understand his disjointed past.
If you have read any of Toni Morrison's works, this book follows the exact same pattern of her others: no visible pattern at all, but somehow coming together throughout the various narratives in various times and places within history. Although many questions are left unanswered, you still feel as if you have been immersed in a dream, a fantastic journey into the past that you never want to end. Morrison's writing is both beautiful and complex. There literally are no words to describe it. There is no one else out there like Morrison.
I suggest that first-time Toni Morrison readers start off with Sula, which is her shortest and least complex work, but still one of her greatest, and then pick up Jazz after you have read a few others including Beloved, Tar Baby, and Song of Solomon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Underappreciated Novel Feb. 22 2003
After having read this novel I can't believe all the negative reviews, most people claiming that the novel was too hard or difficult to follow. I've read 4 of Morrison's books (The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Sula and Beloved) and I'll have to say that enjoyed this one amensely and I pretty much read over a span of three days. It's not a difficult read, nor is it difficult to follow if you've read any of her before or read Hemmingway, Faulkner or Kerouac for that matter. On a second reading of any of Morrison's novels, you always come away with something new, as with any quality piece of literature. So I really don't buy into this idea that Morrison's novels, this one in particular are difficult to read.
This being said, I found this novel to be a great pleasure, a story that's simple enough about a middle-aged married black couple The Traces in "the City" during 1920's the husband Joe Trace has a fling with a young girl named Dorcas Manfred whom he later kills in the middle of party though the girl's Aunt/Guardian doesn't press charges and the wife Violet "Violent" Trace tries to disfigure the dead girl in the casket at her funeral. That's basically it without giving away the novel. There is an almost sensual use of language here that tells the stories behind the story that is common in Morrison's novels that gives Jazz that particular kind of flavor that distinguishes it from Morrison's other works and makes this novel more than a pleasure to read. I highly recommend it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dark passion Nov. 1 2002
By Omni
Inspired by a newspaper story where a woman stabbed a dead woman at the funeral, Morrison tackles obsession, vitriolic hatred manifested as marrings. The marring of a deep love by an affair, the marring of the mistress, the marring of Violet's reputation/identity by her actions throughout the community that once embraced her.
To defend, to attack a live mistress/sexual opponent is acceptable but when one's husband has killed hsi mistress to hold the love in amber, is madness. A madness that goes deeper than what we can imagine.
Or can we?
In Tar Baby, the topic was love and loving with White people as the background, a white canvas, if you will but here, it is Black on black canvas. Cry for freedom by traveling from the South as a loving couple, cry for release through a 50 year old man finding love with an 18 year old girl and then cry vengeance with a capital V for Violet. Hot like hot chocolate in hell, thsi book is jazz, hits its mark with the improvisation, the dance of the sentences that are no longer simply poetry but now notes, harmony, lyrics, melody dancing along the ceiling, on the wall as shadows, as figures entwined first 1 then 2 then 3 then 2 then a solitary one again. Bebop, bebop. 4 beat to 8 beat to 16 beat then to 8 then to 4. Improved as scat through Coltrane, a love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Rereadable
Toni Morrison's novel "Jazz" features one of the most initially inscrutable narrators in recent history. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Dazed and Confused
This book deals with the story of a couple in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. The book has many underlying themes and symbols throughout. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2002 by Alex Thanos
2.0 out of 5 stars Confused and Frustrated
I forced myself to finish Jazz based on the author's critical acclaim, but what a waste of time. Other than the few snippets of imagery that I still remember, the storyline was... Read more
Published on Sept. 23 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving, masterful...Morrison
I've never been a fan of Toni Morrison's. Even though she is both a critical darling AND heralded as a literary Messiah by the proletariat, I've never been able to get into her. Read more
Published on Sept. 11 2002 by "stenerin1"
1.0 out of 5 stars a drunken journey through the mind of a crazy women
Please don't read this book, it's awful. It has no flow and takes you in every direction but the one that might make sense. Read more
Published on July 20 2002 by Cher
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent at points, but very uneven
Toni Morrison's Jazz is like the very little girl with a very little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. Read more
Published on June 16 2002 by Rob Shimmin
2.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly disappointing
Having read a number of Morrison's novels, I expected this to be much better than it was. While the language was sophisticated and the symbolism/imagery provocative, it failed to... Read more
Published on May 9 2002 by "paulawalt"
4.0 out of 5 stars Dancing with Jazz
Reading Jazz is akin to dancing to jazz; with all its rhythmic syntax, onomatopoeia and musical tropes, it surely did take my breath away. Read more
Published on March 7 2002 by rosa oncog
4.0 out of 5 stars Jazz: The Liveliness of Writing
Toni Morrison has done it again. She has managed to capture the true artistry of writing while keeping her characters real and lively. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2002 by Batman
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