Published by Plume Books on April 5, 2002
Genres: 20th Century, African American, Fiction, Literary, Women
Format: Paperback, Hardcover, Audio Book, eBook
Buy on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Buy on: Audible
This rich and moving novel traces the lives of two black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation.
Nel Wright has chosen to stay in the place where she was born, to marry, raise a family, and become a pillar of the black community. Sula Peace has rejected the life Nel has embraced, escaping to college, and submerging herself in city life. When she returns to her roots, it is as a rebel and a wanton seductress. Eventually, both women must face the consequences of their choices. Together, they create an unforgettable portrait of what it means and costs to be a black woman in America.
January’s book club selection was Sula by Toni Morrison. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Morrison’s work. It’s always beautifully written, but often dense material to read. Instead of reading for pleasure, you end up having to wade through the material like an academic. However, Sula was a novel I immediately got into. This story about two women who forge a friendship as children, only to have a betrayal sever their ties is not only memorable, but one worth reading.
What I enjoyed the most about this novel was Morrison’s writing style. Her play with words and imagery really allowed me to visualize this moving story. Per usual, Morrison injected in her use of magical realism throughout. This writing trait of her’s is what made this novel so divisive at our club meeting. Many readers couldn’t wrap their mind around some events that they felt strayed too far from reality. Normally, in her novels like Beloved, I found this style laborious to understand, but not so much in Sula.
“Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.”― Toni Morrison, Sula
Even though I really enjoyed this novel, I honestly can’t say I really liked either Nel or Sula. To me, they both seemed like two halves of one person. They were great together, but as separate entities they were churlish and boring. Nel was a goody-two-shoes character that conformed to society and did everything a “good” woman was supposed to. Instead of living life on her terms, she lived for society and its expectations. Sula, on the other hand, was a modern woman who cared about finding and living for herself. Since she didn’t live the expected life of a woman during the early 20th century, she was a “devil.” I found this examination on womanhood interesting, and lamented at how little has changed.
Sula is a wonderful piece of literature that not only highlights what it’s like to be a woman, but the African American experience post-slavery. Morrison not only tackles what life was like for women during this time, but also tackles what life was like in black communities in the early 1900’s. Set in Ohio, the people of the story still had barriers that prevented them from truly grabbing on to the American dream.