Sunday 17 December 2017

Review: Fiction: Home by Toni Morrison

Chatto and Windus, £12.99 hnk, 147 pages
Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

Toni Morrison is not short on kudos. As both Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, she is one of the most respected living US authors in the world today.

Her novels are densely packed slim volumes of huge import. Her style is dreamlike, almost mystical, shimmering in the heat of the deep South, chimera-like in its dazzling imagery.

Her prose is a thing at which to marvel. Her latest novel Home is a mere 147 pages long and yet she packs in a family saga spanning three generations, the Korean war and its psychological scars on a young black veteran Frank Money.

And that's not to mention the trauma of everyday grief, the cruelty of nature, the even greater cruelty of man, even when we don't have a war to justify such cruelty, the post-industrial age, city versus country life, black versus white, freedom and independence in both race and gender . . .

Full of anger and self-loathing, Frank is back home in racist America after the Korean War, having endured physical and psychological trauma on the front lines. His home may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from.

As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a courage he thought he could never possess again. Toni Morrison's deeply moving novel reveals an apparently defeated man finding his manhood -- and, finally, his home. This is a stunning new novel by the author of Beloved.

Frank is making his way back to Georgia to rescue his sister Cee, who has been used as a medical guinea pig and is now dangerously ill.

Frank has hated his hometown of Lotus, Georgia, his whole life but it is the only place he can think of to bring his sister to recover.

As always with Morrison, this book is about so much more than the story of Frank and Cee. The book is instructive on many grand themes, including happiness. When the sage-like healer Miss Ethel says, "Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you," it is a chiding reminder of what is important and it's full of lessons of this type -- friendship not money, sufficiency not excess, thrift not waste.

Morrison's writing is deeply rooted in the historic, emphasising the thread of America's development, from confederates and Yankees, to the Ku Klux Klan. Lest we forget, she reminds us that the segregated past is uncomfortably recent and even present. She comments on modern-day America too through Frank's observation of its conservative laws which were nascent then.

"Interesting law, vagrancy, meaning standing outside or walking without clear purpose anywhere."

Home is ultimately about survival and self-reliance and the small indestructible core at the centre of each of us that, no matter how broken down and damaged we are, can continue.

It is a powerful meditation on life, and a marvel to behold in its breadth and brevity. It demands and deserves repeat readings.


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