- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (April 5 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375415351
- ISBN-13: 978-0375415357
- Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 1.2 x 21.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 101 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #613,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Sula Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 5 2002
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In Sula, Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, tells the story of two women--friends since childhood, separated in young adulthood, and reunited as grown women. Nel Wright grows up to become a wife and mother, happy to remain in her hometown of Medallion, Ohio. Sula Peace leaves Medallion to experience college, men, and life in the big city, an exceptional choice for a black woman to make in the late 1920s.
As girls, Nel and Sula are the best of friends, only children who find in each other a kindred spirit to share in each girl's loneliness and imagination. When they meet again as adults, it's clear that Nel has chosen a life of acceptance and accommodation, while Sula must fight to defend her seemingly unconventional choices and beliefs. But regardless of the physical and emotional distance that threatens this extraordinary friendship, the bond between the women remains unbreakable: "Her old friend had come home.... Sula, whose past she had lived through and with whom the present was a constant sharing of perceptions. Talking to Sula had always been a conversation with herself."
Lyrical and gripping, Sula is an honest look at the power of friendship amid a backdrop of family, love, race, and the human condition. --Gisele Toueg
“Extravagantly beautiful. . . . Enormously, achingly alive. . . . A howl of love and rage, playful and funny as well as hard and bitter.” —The New York Times
“Exemplary. . . . The essential mysteries of death and sex, friendship and poverty are expressed with rare economy.” —Newsweek
“In characters like Sula, Toni Morrison’s originality and power emerge.” —The Nation
“Enchanting. . . . Powerful.” —Chicago Daily News
“Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature.” —The New York Review of Books
“Sula is one of the most beautifully written, sustained works of fiction I have read in some time. . . . [Morrison] is a major talent.” —Elliot Anderson, Chicago Tribune
“As mournful as a spiritual and as angry as a clenched fist . . . written in language so pure and resonant that it makes you ache.” —Playboy
“In the first ranks of our living novelists.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Toni Morrison’s gifts are rare: the re-creation of the black experience in America with both artistry and authenticity.” —Library Journal
“Should be read and passed around by book-lovers everywhere.” —Los Angeles Free Press
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"Sula" is set in a segregated African American community on a hill in the town of Medallion, Ohio, overlooking the white part of the town located in the more prosperous valley. The story is told chronologically and set in two parts. The first part covers the years 1919-1927. Following a break of ten years, the second part covers the years 1937-- 1941, with a final chapter taking place in 1965. The African American community or "Bottoms" with its small four-block commercial strip called Carpenter's Row with its pool hall, ice cream parlor, hairdresser ("Irene's Palace of Cosmetology") and theater is itself the major character of this novel. In addition to the town, the book focuses on the life long friendship between two women with contrasting backgrounds and approaches to life. The title character, Sula, is raised by her grandmother, Eva, who has lost a leg in mysterious circumstances and by her mother, Hannah. Eva's husband Boyboy abandoned her with three children after five years of marriage and Hannah's husband died. Both Eva and Hannah enjoy the company of men and the latter is promiscuous.
Sula's friend Nel is the product of a conservative, stable home with traditional values. Her mother, Helene, was, however, the daughter of a Creole prostitute in New Orleans and Helene was raised by her grandmother. Early in the book, Helene and Nel travel south to attend Helene's grandmother's funeral, a trip which has a lasting influence on Nel, even though, for the remainder of her long life Nel never leaves the Bottoms again. Nel marries a man named Jude while Sula attends college away from Medallion followed by a series of short affairs in many large cities. During the period of their girlhood, their friendship is forged by guilt and by repeated violence involving Eva, Hannah, and the two girls themselves.
The second part of the book begins after Sula returns to the Bottoms after ten years away. She has stormy, exposing scenes with both her mother Eva and Nel and is scorned by the town because she sleeps indiscriminately with all the men. Much of the second part of the book is internalized as Morrison's characters explore their motivations, pasts, and relationships to each other.
A great deal of the story is told elliptically, symbolically, and through indirection. Many passages will bear several rereadings to be understood. For example, a key event in the story occurs in the aftermath of one of the incidents of violence involving Sula. In a state of shock and incomprehension, Sula visits a mad, isolated WW I veteran, Shadrack, who lives by himself in an old shack along the river. Sula is frightened by what she has done and frightened by Shadrack. During the visit, Shadrack says only the one word which is the title of this review. Morrison recounts the incident twice, the first time from the perspective of Sula when it occurs and the second time, years later, from the perspective of Shadrack. This enigmatic, haunting incident and the event on which it is based is at the heart of the novel.
The book is short but makes use of foreshadowing as events and themes touched upon at one point of the story come to be seen of great significance further on. The tone of the book is meditative. Unlike some readers, I found the book for the most part unideological. Morrison details relationships between African Americans and whites over the first half of the Twentieth Century and explores tensions between sexuality, convention, love, and loneliness that are part of racial issues but that also have meaning on their own. The book left me with a feeling of sorrow and loss and with a renewed appreciation of why I read novels.
I was a little disappointed in it as she's an award-winning author and a paragon of American literature. It hasn't put me off trying some of her other books, but I didn't really connect with the characters, and I attribute that more to the writing style than the fact that I did not grow up poor and black in pre-civil-rights America. There's just way, way too much telling and not enough showing. Not a lot of dialogue. Isn't "show, don't tell" a cardinal rule of writing? I'm okay with telling up to a point but this really came across as a bit amateurish in my opinion.
The setup for the friendship between Sula and Nel is good, and I agree that what Sula does to Nel later in life would likely split them up as friends, but I never connected with the angry feelings Nel should have had.
I'll try you again, Ms. Morrison. One unmoving book does not a reputation make.
"Sula" is a world in itself. A world defined by loss and womanhood. A world that is not restricted to Bottom - it could be anywhere and could occur at anytime. This book spans between 1921-1965 taking readers to a journey in the lives of two girls, Sula Peace and Nel Wright as they become friends, share secrets and make their way into womanhood. What I liked about the book was its simplicity - yeah it was simple as would not be generally expected out of Morrison's' works.
This 174 page so-called novella shows readers what it is that friendship can sometimes do and sometimes cannot. Sula Peace is one character that is so enigmatic and rich - she leaves her hometown called Bottom (which has a funny yet moving significance in the book) only to return and add to the anger of the residents. Sula is a woman of a different sort. Growing up in a poor black mid-western town, she lives in a home where men often visit, but don't stay very long. Her grandmother and mother allow men to satisfy their respective sexual desires, but don't need them in their lives on a permanent basis.
Out of this environment, and through other events in her youth (including ten years in the outside world attending college and living in different parts of the country), Sula arrives back at home as an attractive woman who, like her mother and grandmother before her, "uses" a different man every night to satisfy inner urges but nothing else. There is no love for Sula. She has exercised her freedom and independence by becoming the ultimate "player", loving and leaving them all over town, married or not. She even loves and leaves her best friend's husband, destroying both marriage and friendship.
And with nary a care. Until one day when an older man, Ajax, comes calling. He is kind but not possessive. They are a perfect match. They enjoy each other's company, and they certainly enjoy their time together in bed, but they don't need each other. They are two free spirits who can love and stay with each other precisely because their partner could care less. That is, until Sula starts to care. When she sets the table for two, cleans house, makes the bed, and "expects" Ajax to show, well, that's the end of that.
love, love, love,
makes you do foolish things.
sit alone by the phone,
a phone that never rings.
hoping to hear you say
that you love me still,
knowing, knowing, you never will.
Some pretty nasty things happen to and around Sula on the way to her adulthood of free and open choice. In freely bedding any man she chooses, she becomes hated. She is the town pariah. A witch. Evil incarnate. In fact, the whole town measures their worth, their piety in direct contrast to Sula's evil. She is their yardstick. When she dies, when the yardstick goes away, they have no feedback loop, and fall into evil chaos themselves. Toni Morrison presents a clear view that evil makes us virtuous by comparison. In Sula, the entire town finds virtue by hating Sula.
Sula, was, until Ajax, the only woman in the town who could resist the standard operating procedure, the moral code: "You need a man". To achieve that level of freedom in her time, she had to become, in many respects, the epitome of evil. Sula has to make some awful choices or sacrifices to be the person she chooses to be, to live her life as she pleases. The young Sula mutilates her own finger with a knife to prove herself a worthy opponent. "If I can do that to myself, what you suppose I'll do to you?"
Sula has many layers - I feel that the book was written with much integrity and a lot of afterthought. Toni Morrison observes the racial issues with such strength and vigor that the portrayal of which in the book is breathtaking. We also meet characters from her earlier books such as Tar Baby and the Deweys - which do have their significance in the book - only that it is lost after a certain point. The central link though is a drunk lost war fellow called Shadrack who comes across very strongly celebrating "Suicide Day". Toni Morrison uses Sula to help the reader analyze the conditions that have created Afro-American life in America. The picture is not always appealing, but there are some clear issues available for deep empathy and discussion.
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