Home by Toni Morrison

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Home by Toni Morrison

Morrison Home.jpg
Buy Home by Toni Morrison at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An elegant and moving novella set in post Korean war America. This is sublime writing from one of the best American writers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9780701186074

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Toni Morrison's Home is simply a beautifully crafted novella. Set in post Korean war America, it features some familiar Morrison characteristics. Veteran Frank is suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder, but is released from service with no treatment as so many were, especially if they were black no doubt. But at least he has survived unlike his two friends whom he grew up with. Frank is troubled and has his flaws, but also has dignity. He finds himself returning to the Georgia home, Lotus, he longed to escape from as a child, another typical Morrison settlement with nothing going for it apart from the goodness and dignity of the people who live there. What draws him back is the news that his younger sister, Cee, is suffering from the aftermath of some medical experimentation. It sounds grim stuff, but while life is hard, it's not a traumatically difficult read.

Much gets written about Morrison's themes and socio-political messages. What they often fail to mention is that she is simply a beautiful story-teller. You could comfortably read this in one sitting, although I didn't purely because I wanted it to last. There is political comment there, of course. She notes that war veterans of the two World Wars tended to ignore the Korean war because no one knew what the point of it was.

Another word often associated with Morrison's work is 'poetic'. That might conjure up images of flowery or stylishly sparse language, and neither apply here. It is poetic in the sense that every word has to earn its place and once selected you feel no other word could possibly do, but it's easy reading in the way that prose described as poetic often isn't.

Despite its brevity, she crams a lot in to the story. This is achieved by telling things from differing points of view. There's Frank's own words interspersed with narrative about in turn, Frank, Cee, their loveless step-grandmother and Frank's brief partner. My only regret is that there was no explanation of the doctor whose experimentation with Cee remains largely unexplained. Each subtly moves the story along to a moving climax as Frank and Cee re-discover their self worth in the place they tried so hard to escape from in their youth.

Talking of the ending, Home is dedicated to Morrison's younger son, Slade, who died in December 2010 and there is at least one image late on in the book that is particularly poignant with this in mind. In fact, without that knowledge the ending may seem a little unsatisfactory to some.

There's no denying the tough conditions of the lives of Morrison's protagonists. As she says of the ladies of Lotus who 'practiced what they had been taught by their mothers during the period the rich people called the Depression and they called life'. You can almost hear Morgan Freeman in his best The Shawshank Redemption voice saying that. It's a brutal world but there's an earthy quality to her characters and their story. It's a stunning piece of writing.

Our thanks to the nice people at Chatto & Windus for sending us a copy of this terrific novella. We also have a review of Morrison's God Help the Child.

For a very different view of 1950s America, Indignation by Philip Roth is worth reading. You may also enjoy Nightwoods by Charles Frazier.

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Buy Home by Toni Morrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Home by Toni Morrison at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Home by Toni Morrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Home by Toni Morrison at Amazon.com.

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